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TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 



TALKS 
WITH TOLSTOI 



BY 



/a. b. goldenveizerJ 

TRANSLATED BY 

S. S. KOTELIANSKY and VIRGINIA WOOLF 



^ 



*X/> 






PUBLISHED BY LEONARD & VIRGINIA WOOLF AT 
THE HOGARTH PRESS, PARADISE ROAD, RICHMOND 

1923 



TRANSLATORS' NOTE 

In the following pages we have made a selec- 
tion from vol. i. of the diary of the well-known 
Prussian musician, A. B. Goldenveizer, which 
was published at the end of 1922 in Moscow 
under the title Vbli^i Tolstovo (literally Near 
Tolstoi). 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

In publishing the diary devoted to my friend- 
ship of nearly fifteen years with Leo Nikolaevich 
Tolstoi, I think it best to state first what my aim 
was in making notes, and the method I pursued 
in doing so. 

I put down chiefly Tolstoi's words, and to 
some extent the events of his private life, making 
no attempt to select what would be interesting 
from some special point of view, but adopting 
no method and attempting to supply no con- 
nection between one entry and another. 

My diary, therefore, is in no sense "literature." 
Its aim is to be a document. 

Unfortunately, I did not always make notes 
and was far from writing down everything. 
After 1908 my records were fuller ; in 1909- 
1910, the last year of Tolstoi's life, my reports 
were voluminous ; but it was only in 1 910 that 
my records were as complete as they could 



viii INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

possibly be. This is the cause of a great dis- 
proportion between the parts. The first volume 
of my diary contains the long period from January 
1896 to January 1st, 1910, the second volume 
records and materials for the year 1910 only, 
yet vol. ii. is considerably larger than vol. i. 

My notes from 1896 to 1904 are now pub- 
lished for the first time. The notes from 1904 
to 1908 were published in Russ. Prop. vol. ii., 
and the notes from the end of 1908 to January 
1 st, 1 9 10, appeared in Tolstoi : Pamyatnikj Zhi^ni i 
Tvorchestva. The parts of the diary which have 
been previously published are here published in 
a considerably enlarged form. 

A. GOLDENVEIZER. 



1896 

My first visit to the house of Leo Nikolaevich 
was on January 20th, 1896. I was not then 
twenty-one years old. I was almost a boy. I 
was taken to the Tolstois' by a well-known 
Moscow lady singer who used to visit the 
Tolstois. She took me there in my capacity as 
pianist, of course. If one is so unlucky as to 
play some instrument, or to sing or recite, one 
has a constant impediment in one's relations 
with people. People do not take to one, are 
not interested in one as in a person : one is asked 
to play something, to sing, to recite. . . . 
Hence one feels so embarrassed, so awkward, in 
other people's society. 

I felt awkward then, and painfully shy. I 
was introduced. I went into the drawing-room, 
where, fortunately, two or three people I knew 
were sitting. I did not yet see Tolstoi. Shortly 
afterwards he came in, dressed in a blouse, with 
his hands in his belt. He greeted us all. I do 



io TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

not remember whether he spoke to me then. 
Then I played, and played badly. Of course, 
out of politeness I was thanked and compli- 
mented, which made me inexpressibly ashamed. 
And then, when I stood in the middle of the 
large room, at a loss, not knowing what to do 
with myself, not daring to raise my eyes, Leo 
Nikolaevich came up to me, and, speaking with 
a simplicity which was his alone, began to talk 
to me. 

Among other things, talking of the piece I 
had played, he asked me : 

" Which composer do you like best ? " 

" Beethoven," I replied. 

Tolstoi looked straight into my eyes and 
said quietly as if doubting me : 

" Is that so ? " 

It seemed as if I were repeating what every 
one says ; but I spoke the truth. 

Leo Nikolaevich observed that he loved 
Chopin beyond almost all other composers. 

He said to me : 

" In every art — this I know from my own 
experience too — there are two extremes which 
it is difficult to avoid : emptiness and virtuosity. 
For instance, Mozart, whom I love so much, is 
at times empty, but after that he soars to an 
extraordinary height. Schumann's defect is virtu- 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI n 

osity. Of these two faults virtuosity is the 
worse, if only for this reason, that it is harder to 
get rid of it. Chopin's greatness consists in 
the fact that, however simple he may be, he is 
never empty, and in his most complicated works 
he is never a mere virtuoso." 

I left the Tolstois' house with a vague feeling 
of happiness that I had seen Tolstoi and spoken 
to him, and also with a bitter sense of my own 
unworthiness. 

One evening as I approached the Tolstois' 
house in Khamovniki I met Leo Nikolaevich, 
who was going for a walk. He asked me to 
come with him. We walked in the Prechistenka. 
The street was deserted and quiet. The few 
passers-by whom we met at intervals nearly all 
bowed to Leo Nikolaevich. By degrees Leo 
Nikolaevich brought me to talk about myself. 
At that time I was carried away by the philosophy 
of pessimism ; I raved about Schopenhauer. 
Probably everything I said to Leo Nikolaevich 
was naive and silly, but Leo Nikolaevich listened 
to me attentively and spoke to me seriously 
without making me feel my naivete. 

In passing, Leo Nikolaevich said to me : 

" The most complete and profound philosophy 
is to be found in the Gospels." 

I remember that at that time it seemed to me 



i2 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

strange. I was used to thinking the Gospels 
a book of moral teaching ; and I did not under- 
stand that all the wisdom of the most profound 
philosophy was contained in its simplicity and 
lucidity. 

Once I met Leo Nikolaevich in the street. 
He again asked me to walk with him. We 
were somewhere near the Novinsky Boulevard, 
and Leo Nikolaevich suggested we should take 
the tram. We sat down and took our tickets. 

Leo Nikolaevich asked me : 

" Can you make a Japanese cockerel ? " 

" No." 

" Look." 

Tolstoi took his ticket and very skilfully 
made it into a rather elaborate cockerel, which, 
when you pulled its tail, fluttered its wings. 

An inspector entered the car and began 
checking the tickets. L. N., with a smile, held 
out the cockerel to him and pulled its tail. The 
cockerel fluttered its wings. But the inspector, 
with the stern expression of a business man who 
has no time for trifling, took the cockerel, un- 
folded it, looked at the number, and tore it up. 

L. N. looked at me and said : 

" Now our little cockerel is gone." . . . 

I arrived at Yasnaya on July 6th after eleven 
o'clock at night. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 13 

I got up early in the morning and went to 
the river with L. N. to bathe. L. N. works 
every day from breakfast till lunch. He seemed 
to me to be in good spirits. In the morning 
at coffee he said : 

" I feel as though I were nineteen or twenty." 

Yasnaya then used to be crowded and gay. 
Nearly all the children were at home. All the 
young people played tennis and enjoyed them- 
selves. Occasionally L. N. would also play 
tennis. In the evening all used to go out for 
long walks in the woods. L. N. always loved 
to find short cuts, and would take us all into 
wonderful places in the forests. It must be 
admitted that the ' short-cuts ' nearly always 
made the walks longer. 

Once L. N. and myself were left far behind 
the others. L. N. said : " Let us catch them 
up ! " And for half a mile or three-quarters I, 
twenty-one years old, and he, sixty-eight, ran 
neck and neck. On another occasion his physical 
vigour struck me even more. Mikhail Lvovich 
was doing a very difficult gymnastic exercise 
which he could not bring off. L. N. looked 
and looked, could not stand it any longer, and 
said : " Let me try," and to the surprise of all 
present he at once did the exercise better than 
his son. 



i 4 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

When I was leaving Yasnaya and my carriage 
was waiting for me, L. N. took my arm, led me 
aside, and said : 

" I have been meaning all this time to tell 
you, and now as you are going I shall tell you : 
however great a gift for music you may have, 
and however much time and power you may spend 
on it, do remember that, above all, the most 
important of all is to be a man. It is always 
necessary to remember that art is not every- 
thing. ... In your relations with people it is 
necessary to try to give them as much as possible 
and to take from them as little as possible. 
Forgive me for saying this, but I did not want 
to say good-bye to you without having told you 
what I think." 

Another of L. N.'s sayings at this time was : 
" The ego is the temporary thing that limits our 
immortal essence. Belief in personal immortality 
always seems to me a misunderstanding. 

" Materialism is the most mystical of all 
doctrines : it makes a belief in some mythical 
matter, which creates everything out of itself, 
the foundation of everything. It is sillier than 
a belief in the Trinity ! " 



i8 97 

Moscow, January 6th. To-day I spent the 
evening at the Tolstois'. L. N. was talkative. 
The conversation was on various topics, begin- 
ning with the peasants and ending with the 
latest " decadent " movement in art. 

L. N. read aloud certain passages of Maeter- 
linck's new play Aglavaine et Selysette. His 
attitude to it is one of complete indifference. 

L. N. reads aloud most wonderfully ; very 
simply and at the same time with remarkable 
expression. Wonderful also is his capacity of 
telling in a few words the contents of a story. 
There is nothing superfluous, and a clear, definite 
picture is given. 

April zznd. At the Tolstois'. 

Speaking of modern art, L. N. said : 

" If an impressionist was asked to draw a 

hoop, he would draw a straight line ; a 

child would draw a circle like this O " (L. N. 

15 



J 16 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

made the circle with his finger on the table). 
" And the child is more in the right, because 
he naively represents what he sees, and the 
impressionist represents what may be a hoop or 
a stick or anything you like ; in a word, he does 
not represent the characteristic properties of the 
thing, but only a symbol of it, a part, and that 
not always the most characteristic one. 

" A really remarkable and powerful mind can 
look for a method of expressing his idea, and 
if the idea is strong he will find new methods 
of expressing it. But modern artists invent a 
technical method and then are on the look-out 
for an idea, which they arbitrarily squeeze into 
their method. 

" The great mistake is that people have intro- 
duced into art the vague conception of ' beauty,' 
which obscures and confuses everything. . . . 
Art consists in this — when some one sees or 
feels something, and expresses it in such a form 
that he who listens, reads, or sees his work 
feels, sees, and hears the same thing in the same 
way as the artist. Therefore art can be of the 
highest quality, or indifferent, or, finally, simply 
hateful, but still it is art. The most immoral 
picture if it achieves its end is art, although it 
serves low ends. 

" If I yawn, cry, or laugh, and infect another 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 17J 

person by the same thing, that is not art, for I 
produce the impression by the fact itself; but, 
if a beggar, for instance, seeing that his tears 
affected you and you gave him money, should 
on the following day pretend to cry and should 
arouse pity in you, then that is art." 



August znd, 4 p.m. I have just had a long 
talk with L. N. on art. He was repeating the 
contents of his article on art which he is writing, 
and which he goes on working over and re- 
writing. In the course of it L. N. said : ^ 

" When art became the inheritance of a small 
circle of rich people, and left its main course, 
it entered the cul-de-sac in which we see it 
now. 

"Art is the expression of feeling, and the 
higher it is the greater the public which it can 
draw to itself. Therefore the highest art must 
reflect those states of mind which are religious 
in the best sense of the word, as they are the 
most universal and typical of all human beings. 

" The majority of so-called works of art 
consist in a more or less skilful combination of 
four elements : (1) borrowing — for instance, the 
working out of some legend in a poem, of a 
song in music, etc. Or unconscious borrowing 
— -that is, an imitation now of one thing, now of 

B 



A 



1 8 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

another, not intended by the author. (2) Em- 
bellishments : pretty metaphors which cover up 
insignificant ideas, flourishes in music, ornament 
in architecture, etc. (3) Effects : violent colours 
in painting, accumulated dissonances, sharp cre- 
scendos in music, and so on. Finally, (4) the 
interest — that is, the desire to surprise by the 
novelty of the method, by the new combination 
of colours, etc. Modern works of art are usually 
distinguished by these four qualities. 

" The following are the chief obstacles which 
hinder even very remarkable men from creating 
true works of art : first, professionalism — that 
is, a man ceases to be a man, but becomes a 
poet, a painter, and does nothing but write 
books, compose music, or paint pictures ; 
wastes his gift on trifles and loses the power of 
judging his work critically. The second, also 
a very serious obstacle, is the school. You 
can't teach art, as you cannot teach a man to be 
a saint. True art is always original and new, 
and has no need of preconceived models. The 
third obstacle, finally, is criticism, which, as 
some one has justly said, is made up of fools' 
ideas about wise men. 

" I know that my article will be received by 
most people as a series of paradoxes, but I am 
convinced that I am right." 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 19 

L. N. is evidently much carried away by his 
work. 

August yth. This evening I am going to 
leave Yasnaya Polyana, where I have spent 
nearly a fortnight. The whole time passed 
wonderfully well. The days were spent more 
or less in this way : After breakfast every one 
goes to his work. L. N. takes his barley-coffee 
in a little kettle, and with the kettle in one hand 
and a few little pieces of bread in the other he 
goes to his room to work there, and does not 
come out till lunch. 

A Note without a Date. In the summer of 1 897 
the famous Lombroso came to Yasnaya. I was 
not at Yasnaya at the time, but from what L. N. 
and others told me I can say that Lombroso, 
whose writings L. N. regarded without en- 
thusiasm, had made no particular impression 
personally. I will give one example to show 
how superficially and inaccurately Lombroso 
related what he saw in Yasnaya. There was a 
round patch on one of L. N.'s boots, which came 
off, and L. N., while waiting to send the boot 
to be repaired, wore it with the hole in it. At 
that time Sophie Andreevna, I believe, took a 
snapshot of L. N., and the little hole on the boot 



20 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

was clearly seen in the photograph. I have 
that snapshot. Lombroso, in describing his 
„ visit to Yasnaya in the Press and in numerous 
interviews, said that L. N. pretended the c simple 
life/ and, wanting to show that he wore torn 
boots, had made a round hole in one of them, 
evidently cut on purpose. 



1899 

May nth. The conversation turned upon 
Katkov. L. N. expressed the opinion that 
Katkov was not clever. Sophie Andreevna 
became annoyed and said : 

" Any one who disagrees with us must be a 
fool." 

To which L. N. said : 

" The mark of foolish people is : when you 
say anything to them they never answer your 
words, but keep on repeating their own. That 
was always Katkov's way. That is why I say 
that Katkov was a stupid man. Now, there is 
something of the same sort in Chicherin, yet 
can they be put even approximately on the 
same level ? 

" Though," L. N. added, " one has to respect 
every one. Among the virtues the Chinese 
place respect first. Simply, without any relation 
to anything definite. Respect for the individual 
and for the opinion of every man." 



22 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

The conversation turned upon ancient lan- 
guages and classical education. L. N. said : 

" When I studied and read a great deal of 
Greek, I could easily understand almost any 
Greek book. I used to be at the examinations 
in the Lyceum, and saw that nearly always the 
pupil only understood what he had learnt before- 
hand. He did not understand new passages. 
And, indeed, at school for every fifty words 
that were learnt at least sixty-five rules were 
taught. In such a way one can't learn any- 
thing. 

" I am always surprised how firmly all sorts 
of superstitions possess people. Superstitions, 
such as the Church, the Tsar, the army, etc., live 
for centuries, and people have got so accustomed 
to them that they are not now thought to be 
strange. But the superstition of classical educa- 
tion arose with us in Russia before my very 
eyes. Above all, not one of the most zealous 
partisans of classical education can give a single 
sensible argument in favour of the system." 
Then L. N. added : 

" There is also the superstition of the possi- 
bility of a ' school ' in art. Hence all institutes 
and academies. The abnormal form which art 
takes now, however, is not the root of the evil, 
but one of its symptoms. When the religious 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 23 

conception of life changes, then art, too, will find 
its true methods." 

L. N. returned to the Chinese virtue of 
' respect,' and said : 

" Often remarkable men suffer from the lack 
of that Chinese ' respect.' For instance, in 
Henry George's Progress and Poverty Marx's name 
is not mentioned at all ; and in his recently 
published posthumous work hardly eight lines 
refer to Marx, and those speak of the obscurity, 
complexity, and emptiness of Marx's works. 

" Apropos of obscurity and complexity, they 
are nearly always a proof of the absence of true 
meaning. But there is one great exception — 
Kant, who wrote horribly, and yet he makes an 
epoch in the development of mankind. In many 
respects he discovered perfectly new horizons. " 

To-day after lunch L. N. went on horseback 
to Sokolniki and came back late in the evening. 
Nevertheless, when Mme. M. A. Maklakov and 
myself began to say good-bye, he said he would 
come with us. On the way Mme. Maklakov 
kept saying all the time how much she would 
like to live in the country. L. N. interrupted 
her : 

" How it annoys me when people abuse the 
town with such exaggeration and say: To the 
country, to the country ! All depends on the 



24 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

person, — in town, too, one can be with Nature. 
Don't you remember," L. N. asked her, " we 
had an old gatekeeper, Vasili ? He lived all his 
life in town ; in the summer he used to get up 
at 3 o'clock in the morning, and enjoyed his 
intercourse with Nature in our garden much more 
than country gentlemen do, who spend their 
evenings in the country playing cards. Besides, 
compared with the enormously important ques- 
tion of how to live one's life in the best and 
most moral way, the question of town or country 
has no value at all." 

Before this L. N. said with a smile : 
" I once said, but you must not talk about it, 
and I tehSit you in secret : woman is generally 
so bad that tbe^dirTerence between a good and a 
bad woman scarcery^exists." 

Yasnaya Poly ana, July $ist. I am working 
with N. N. Ge on the proofs of Resurrection. 
The corrections are to be inserted in the proof- 
sheets from L. N.'s draft copy, and two copies 
of the same are made. The draft copy remains 
here, and the fair copies are sent, one to Marx 
for the weekly Niva, and the other to Chertkov 
in England for the English edition. 

It is an interesting, but worrying and difficult 
work. Throughout, instead of the one printed 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 25 , 

proof-sheet, one has to copy out afresh three or 
four long pages. Often L. N.'s corrections are 
written so closely that a magnifying glass has 
to be used to read them. Unless one has seen 
L. N.'s incredible work, the numerous passages 
that are rewritten, the additions and alterations, 
the same incident being sometimes written dozens 
of times over, one can have not the remotest 
idea of this labour. 

August znd. I have been here from July 27th 
(in Yasnaya Poly ana). 

A queer young man, K., came to L. N., and, 
on my asking him what he was doing, he said 
that " he was the free son of air." K. told 
L. N. that he wanted to settle down in the 
country among the people. 

L. N. in recounting it said : 

" Of course, I did not advise him to do it. 
Usually nothing comes from such attempts. 
For instance, some very nice people, the N. N.'s, 
bought a small plot of land and settled like that 
in the country. A peasant cut down one of 
their trees ; they did not want to take action 
in the court against him, and soon, when the 
peasants learnt about it, they cut down the whole 
woods. The peasant boys stole their peas ; 
they were not beaten nor driven away, and then 



4 



i6 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

nearly the whole village came and stole all the 
peas, etc., etc. 

" One should not, above all, look for new ways 
of life, for usually, in doing so, one's whole 
energy is spent on the external arrangement of 
life. And when all the external arrangement is 
over, one begins to feel bored and does nothing. 
Let every one first do his own work, if only it 
does not clash sharply with his convictions, and 
let him try to become better and better in his 
own situation, and then he will find new ways 
of life into the bargain. For the most part, all 
the external side of life must be neglected ; one 
should not bother about it. Do your own work." 
To-day L. N. said of some one : 

" He is a Tolstoian — that is, a man with 
convictions utterly opposed to mine." 

Yesterday L. N. spoke of the process of 
creative work : 

" I can't understand how any one can write 
without rewriting everything over and over 
again. I scarcely ever re-read my published 
writings, but if by chance I come across a page, 
it always strikes me : All this must be rewritten ; 
this is how I should have written it. . . . 

" I am always interested to trace the moment, 
which comes quite early, when the public is 
satisfied ; and the artist thinks : They say it is 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 27 

good ; but it is just at this point that the real 
work begins ! " 

To-day L. N. was not well. I went to him ; 
he was lying on the little sofa in the drawing- 
room. He told me of S. G. Verus's book on 
the Gospels. 

" His final conclusion is the denial of Christ 
as a historical person. In the earliest written 
parts of the New Testament — in Paul's messages 
— there is not a single biographical fact about 
Christ. All the Gospels that have come down 
to us were composed between the second and 
fourth century a.d. Of the writers who were 
Christ's contemporaries (Tacitus, Suetonius, 
Philo, J. Flavius) not a single one of them 
mentions Christ; so that his personality is not 
historical, but legendary. 

" All this is very interesting and even valu- 
able, for it makes it unnecessary to quarrel 
any more over refuting the authenticity of the 
Gospel stories about the miracles ; and it proves 
the teaching of the Gospels to be not the words 
of one superman, but the sum of the wisdom 
of all the best moral teaching expressed by many 
people and at different times." 

L. N. also said this to me : 

" Perhaps it is because I am unwell, but at 
moments to-day I am simply driven to despair 



28 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

by everything that is going on in the world : 
the new form of oath, the revolting proclamation 
about enlisting university students in the army, 
the Dreyfus affair, the situation in Serbia, the 
horrors of the diseases and deaths in the Auerbach 
quicksilver works. ... I can't make out how 
mankind can go on living like this, with the 
sight of all this horror round them 1 

" It always strikes me how little man is 
valued, even in the simplest way as a valuable 
and useful animal. We value a horse which 
can carry, but man can also make boots, work in 
a factory, play the piano ! And 50 per cent 
are dying ! When I used to breed merino sheep 
and their death-rate reached 5 per cent, I was 
indignant and thought the shepherd very bad. 
And 50 per cent of the people are dying ! " 

I read L. N.'s most wonderful Father Sergius. 

Moscow, August yth. I returned from Yasnaya 
in the evening of the 6th. This is what I find 
I have written down. 

The talk turned upon the woman question. 
The conversation was carried on in a half- 
jocular tone. 

L. N. said : 

" Woman, as a Christian, has a right to 
equality. Woman, as member of the modern 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 29 

and perfectly pagan family, must not struggle 
for an impossible equality. The modern family 
is like a tiny little boat sailing in a storm on the 
vast ocean. It can keep afloat if it is ruled by 
one will. But when those in the boat begin 
struggling, the boat is upset, and the result is 
what we see now in most families. The man, 
however bad, is in the majority of cases the 
more sensible of the two. Woman is nearly 
always in opposition to any progress. When 
man wants to break with the old life and to go 
ahead, he nearly always meets with energetic 
resistance from the woman. The wife catches 
hold of his coat-tails and will not allow him. 
In woman a great evil is terribly highly developed 
— family egotism. It is a dreadful egotism, for 
it commits the greatest cruelties in the name of 
love ; as if to say, let the whole world perish so 
that my Serge may be happy ! . . ." 

Then L. N. recalled scenes which he had 
observed in Moscow : 

" There issues from Minangua's a gentleman 
in a beaver coat, with a sad face, and after him 
his lady, and the porter carries boxes and helps 
the lady into the sledge. 

" I love at times to stand near the colonnade 
by the great theatre and watch the ladies driving 
up to stop at MerihVs. I only know of two 



3 o TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

similar sights : (i) when peasant women go to 
Zaseka to pick up nuts the watchmen catch 
them, so that sometimes they give birth out of 
fright, and yet they go on doing it ; and (2) so 
it is with ladies shopping at sales. 

" And their coachmen wait in the bitter cold 
and talk among themselves : ' My lady must 
have spent five thousand to-day ! ' 

" I shall one day write about women. When 
I am quite old, and my digestion is completely 
out of order, and I am still looking out into the 
world through one eye, then I shall pop my 
head out and tell them: That's what you are! 
and disappear completely, or they would peck 
me to death." . . . 

Doctor E. N. Maliutin was in Yasnaya. 
L. N. said to him : 

" I can't understand the usual attitude that a 
doctor always serves a good cause. There is 
no profession that is good in itself. One may 
be a cobbler and be better and nicer than a 
doctor. Why is restoring some one to health 
good ? At times it is quite the opposite. Man's 
deeds are good, not in themselves, but because of 
the feelings which inspire him. That's why I do 
not understand the desire of women to be doctors, 
trained nurses, midwives, as though by becoming 
a midwife everything is settled for the best." 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 31 

On some occasion L. N. said : 

" When you are told about a complicated and 
difficult affair, for the most part about some one's 
disgusting behaviour, reply to it : Did you make 
the jam ? or : Won't you like to have tea ? — 
and that's all. Much harm comes from the so- 
called attempt to understand circumstances and 
relations." 

October 1st. I came to Yasnaya Polyana 
yesterday. It is very nice here now the weather 
is mild, almost bright, but rather cold. There 
are no strangers. I am copying Resurrection 
again, on which L. N. is hard at work. Now 
I am doing the first chapters of Part III. 

There is little joy in the Tolstois' family life, 
and to an intimate friend this is extremely marked. 

Moscow, November 16th. I am much distressed 
by L. N.'s serious illness, which at the bottom 
of my mind I consider hopeless. I called on 
Wednesday to inquire after his health, and the 
news was very unfavourable. 

December jth. When Tolstoi was ill (he is 
much better now) and I was for the first time 
in his room, he seemed glad to see me, which 
was a great delight to me. On his table was 



32 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

the volume of Tyutchev's poems. In his hand 
he had an English book, Empire and Freedom (I 
don't remember by whom). As is always his 
way, Tolstoi at once spoke of what he was 
reading. 

" Here is a remarkable book ! " said Tolstoi. 
" He (the author) is American, therefore an 
Anglo-Saxon; nevertheless, he denies the so- 
called civilizing influence of the Anglo-Saxon 
race. I can't understand how people can stick to 
such superstitions ! I understand a Muhammad 
preaching his doctrine, — mediaeval Christianity, 
the Crusades. Whatever the convictions of those 
people may have been, they did it in the belief 
that they knew the truth and were giving that 
knowledge to others. But now there is no- 
thing ! Everything is done for the sake of 
profit ! " 

Then Tolstoi began to talk about a French 
pamphlet on the workers' co-operative societies 
which he had read. 

" Why not introduce in the villages here 
such co-operative societies ? That is a vital 
thing ! You, instead of doing nothing," he 
turned to Ilya Lvovich, who sat there, " ought 
to do it here in the village. 

" Socialist ideas have become a truism. Who 
can now seriously dispute the idea that every 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 33 

one should have the right to enjoy the result of 
his labour ? " 

Then the conversation turned upon the 
obs china. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Everything is taken away from the peasants ; 
they are overtaxed, oppressed in all ways. The 
only good thing left is the obschina. And then 
every one criticizes it and makes it responsible 
for all the miseries of the peasants, in their wish 
to take away from the peasants their last good 
thing. They make out that the mutual responsi- 
bility of the members is one of the evils of the 
obschina. But mutual responsibility is only one 
of the principles of the obschina with regard to 
fiscal purposes. If I use a good thing for an 
evil end, that does not prove that the thing is in 
itself bad." 

Then the conversation turned upon Tyutchev. 
The other day Tolstoi saw in the Novoe Vremya 
his poem " Twilight." He therefore took down 
all Tyutchev's poems and read them during his 
illness. 

Tolstoi said to me : 

" I am always saying that a work of art is 
either so good that there is no standard by which 
to define its qualities — that is real art, — or it is 
quite bad. Now, I am happy to have found a 

c 



34 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

real work of art. I cannot read it without 
tears. I know it by heart. Listen, I'll read it 
to you." 

Tolstoi began in a voice broken with tears : 

" The dove-coloured shadows melted to- 
gether. . . ." 

When I am on my death -bed I shall not 
forget the impression then produced on me by 
Tolstoi. He lay on his back, convulsively twist- 
ing the edge of his blanket with his fingers and 
trying in vain to restrain the tears that choked 
him. He broke down several times and began 
again. But at last, when he read the end of 
the stanza, " Everything is in me, and I in 
everything," his voice gave way. The entrance 
of A. N. Dunaev stopped him. He grew calmer. 

" What a pity that I spoilt the poem for you ! " 
he said to me later. 

Then I played the piano. 

Tolstoi asked me not to play Chopin, saying : 
" I am afraid I might burst into tears." 

Tolstoi asked for something by Mozart or 
Haydn. 

He asked : " Why do pianists never play 
Haydn ? You ought to. How good it is — 
beside a modern complicated, artificial work — 
to play something of Mozart or Haydn ! " 



igoo 

Moscow, January zyth. Tolstoi had a conversa- 
tion with V. E. Den when Chalyapin was here. 
Tolstoi is working now on the article on the 
labour question, " New Slavery," and the con- 
versation turned upon labour. 

Tolstoi said : " We are going through a new 
stage in the evolution of slavery : the slavery of 
the working men suffering under the yoke of 
the well-to-do classes. 

" Slavery will never cease at the bottom first, 
exclusively from the movement of the slaves 
themselves. We saw it in America, and here 
during the serfdom of the peasants. So must 
it happen now again. It is only when we realize 
that it is a shame to have slaves, that we shall 
cease to be slave-drivers, and shall voluntarily 
give up exploiting the working classes. 

" Freedom cannot come from the slaves. 
Individual slaves who have rid themselves of 
the yoke of slavery become in the majority of 

35 



36 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

cases particularly harsh oppressors and tyrants 
over their late brothers. Nor can it be other- 
wise. How can you expect from them — harassed 
and tortured — anything else ? It is only when 
we voluntarily give up the shameful use of the 
labour of the slaves, our brothers, that slavery 
will come to an end. 

" Science, in so far as it describes and clarifies 
the real state of things, does a useful and necessary 
work. But as soon as it starts laying down 
programmes for the future, it becomes useless. 
All these ideas about an eight-hour working 
day, etc., only increase and legalize the evil. 
Labour must be free, not slavish, and that is all. 

" When a peasant gets up before sunrise and 
works all day long in the field, he is not a slave. 
He has intercourse with nature, he does a useful 
work. But when he stands by a piece of 
machinery in a Morosov's factory all his life 
long, manufacturing textiles which he will never 
see, and neither himself nor any one of his 
people will ever use, then he is a slave and 
perishes in slavery. 

" Railways, telephones, and the other ac- 
cessories of the civilized world — all that is useful 
and good. But if one had to choose either the 
whole of this civilization, for which not hundreds 
of thousands of ruined lives are required, but 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 37 / 

only the certain destruction of one single exist- 
ence, or, on the other hand, no civilization at 
all, then no thank you for this civilization with 
its railways and telephones, if a necessary con- 
dition of them is the destruction of human life." 

February 14th. On the 18th and 20th I was 
at the Tolstois'. On the 18th Tolstoi went to 
the " Pod Deviche " playhouse and afterwards 
to a dirty public-house, where there is an extra- 
ordinary amount of drunkenness and debauchery, 
to make observations. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Twenty years ago I saw at the c Pod 
Deviche,' Churkjn, a play composed by a drunken 
tramp, and this time I saw Sten^a Rasin — and 
it is all the same thing. Murder and violence 
are represented as heroic and are acclaimed by 
the crowd. And it is remarkable that whilst 
every word in a book which may enlighten the 
minds of the people is carefully struck out by the 
censorship, such performances are readily allowed, 
under the police inspector's censorship. During 
the last twenty years probably over a million 
people have seen these Churkjns and Rasins." 

In telling this, Tolstoi recollected how he was 
once in a workhouse where the priest explained 
the Gospels : 



38 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

" The passage was read where Christ says : 
' It is said : thou shalt not kill ; but I say unto 
you, do not be angry without cause.' The 
priest began to explain that one must not be 
angry without cause, but, if the authorities 
become angry, that is right and as it should be. 
1 Do not kill ' also does not mean that one should 
never kill. In war or at an execution, killing 
is necessary and is not a sin. This is the only 
chance that an illiterate person has to under- 
stand the meaning of the Gospels, for in church 
all the chapters are either indistinctly read by the 
sexton, or shouted so loud that they are perfectly 
unintelligible — and this is the way in which the 
Gospels are explained to the people ! " 

A long talk about the Boers and the English 
took place. 

Tolstoi said : 

" I always consider that moral motives are 
effective and decisive historically. And now, 
when the universal dislike of the English is so 
clearly pronounced — I shall not live to see it, 
but it seems to me that the power of England 
will be much shaken. And I say this not out 
of an unconscious Russian patriotism. If Poland 
or Finland rose against Russia and success were 
on their side, my sympathy would be on their 
side as the oppressed. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 



39 



" The Russian people, speaking impartially, is 
perhaps the most Christian of all in its moral 
character. It is partly to be explained by the 
fact that the Gospels have been read by the 
Russian people for nine hundred years ; Catholics 
don't know the Gospels even now, and other 
races came to know the Gospel only after the 
Reformation. 

" I was struck when I saw in the streets of 
London a criminal escorted by the police, and 
the police had to protect him energetically from 
the crowd, which threatened to tear him to pieces. 
With us it is just the opposite : police have to 
drive away by force the people who try to give 
the criminal money and bread. With us, criminals 
and prisoners are e little unhappy ones.' But 
now, unfortunately, there is a change for the 
worse, and our abominable Government tries 
with all its might and main to rouse hatred 
against the condemned. In Siberia, even prizes 
are given to any one who kills an escaped 
prisoner." 

April zyth. The conversation was on Shake- 
speare. Tolstoi is not very fond of him. Tolstoi 
said : 

" Three times in my life I have read through ' 
Shakespeare and Goethe from end to end, and I 



•/ 



4 o TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

I could never make out in what their charm 
consisted." 

According to Tolstoi, Goethe is cold. Among 
his (Goethe's) works he likes many of the lyrics 
and Hermann and Dorothea. He does not like 
Goethe's dramatic works, and his novels he 
considers quite weak. Tolstoi did not speak 
about Faust. 

Tolstoi is very fond of Schiller, and said : 
" He is a genuine man ! " He loves almost all 
his works, particularly The Robbers and Don 
Carlos, also Mary Stuart, William Tell, and 
Wallenstein. 

Then A. M. Sukhotin, a man over seventy, 
read aloud Turgenev's Old Portraits superbly. 
Tolstoi did not remember the story, and was in 
great delight over it. He said : 

" It is only after reading all these moderns 
that one really appreciates Turgenev." 

Tolstoi remembered Turgenev with great love. 
He said, in passing : 

" When Turgenev died I wanted to read a 
paper about him. I wanted especially, in view 
of the misunderstandings that there had been 
between us, to remember and relate all the good 
that was so abundant in him, and to tell what I 
loved in him. The lecture was not given. 
Dolgorukov did not allow it." 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 41 

The conversation turned on Chekhov and 
Gorky. Tolstoi as usual praised Chekhov's 
artistic gift very highly. The lack of a definite 
world conception grieves him in Chekhov ; and 
in this respect Tolstoi prefers Gorky. Of Gorky 
Tolstoi said : 

" You know what he is from his works. 
Gorky's great and very serious essential defect 
is a poorly developed sense of proportion, and 
this is extremely important. I pointed out this 
defect to Gorky himself, and as an instance I 
drew his attention to his misuse of the method 
of animating inanimate things. Then Gorky * 
said that in his opinion it was a good method, 
and gave an instance of it in his story Maka, where 
it says : ' the sea laughed.' I replied to him 
that, if on certain occasions the method might 
be very successful, nevertheless one ought not 
to abuse it." 

Yesterday Ushakov asked Tolstoi about Gro- 
meka. Tolstoi and Tatyana Lvovna spoke a 
great deal about him. 

Tolstoi said : 

" He was a sympathetic, passionate, and 
gifted man. He shot himself when still a 
young man, it was said because he was mentally 
deranged." 

Tatyana Lvovna says, by the way, that 



42 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Gromeka was her first admirer and proposed 
to her when she was sixteen. 

Tolstoi values Gromeka's criticism very much. 
He said : 

" It was a pleasure to me that a man who 
sympathized with me could see even in War and 
Peace and in Anna Karenin a great deal of what 
I was afterwards to say and write." 

Tolstoi also said : 

" When I wrote the story What Men Live 
by, Fet said, ' Well, what do people live by ? 
By money, of course.' " 

I observed that Fet had probably said it in 
joke. Tolstoi replied : 

" No, it was his conviction. And, as often 
happens, what people try very stubbornly to get, 
they do get. Fet all his life long wanted to 
become rich, and he became rich. His brothers 
and sisters, it seems, went out of their minds, 
and all their fortunes came to him." 

Fet wrote in Tatyana Lvovna's album that 
the unhappiest day of his life was the one when 
he saw that he was going to be ruined. 

I talked a good deal with Tolstoi to-day. 
Tolstoi said about current events : 

"lam not so much horrified at these murders 
in the Transvaal, and now in China, as by the 
open declaration of immoral motives. They 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 43 

used at least to cloak themselves hypocritically 
in good motives, but now that this is no longer 
possible they express all their immoral and cruel 
intentions and claims openly." 

We spoke about the abolition of deportation. 
Tolstoi considers it worse than the other method. 
He said : 

" Instead of making it possible for a man to 
order his life in a new place, he is put into prison. 
The Government has already voted six and a 
half millions for the enlargement of prisons. 
And this money will again be flayed off the 
peasants, "for there is nowhere else to take it 
from." 

Of our courts of justice Tolstoi said : 

" How absurd our courts are can be seen at 
each stage. For example, take the case of the 
Tula priest. How was it that the Tula court 
acquitted him, and then after the acquittal the 
Oriol court sentenced him to hard labour for 
twenty years ? If such uncertainty is possible, 
what are those verdicts worth? Indeed, it 
depends on a thousand accidents : the temper 
of the jurymen, the behaviour of the prisoner 
at the bar — the prisoner bursts into tears, and 
the impression produced secures his acquittal. 
It is merely a game of heads and tails ! It 
would be simpler and easier to say : Heads or 



44 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

tails, and to give sentence accordingly. It 
simply baffles me how decent people can be 
judges ! " 

Of the case of S. I. Mamontov, Tolstoi 
said : 

" One is certainly very sorry for him : he is 
an old, unhappy man ; but, on the other hand, 
you have to remember that the man has squandered 
twelve millions, or whatever it may be ; he 
certainly spent between one and two hundred 
thousand roubles per annum, and is then acquitted, 
while another wretched man steals a trifle and 
is condemned for it. And in his case, too, 
money was spent on expensive lawyers. This 
reminds me of the anecdote I read in the papers. 
A cashier who embezzled twenty-five thousand 
roubles came to a lawyer to ask him to under- 
take his defence. The lawyer asked him : ' Is 
there any more money left ? ' The cashier said 
that there was another twenty-five thousand. 
Then the lawyer said : ' Take the rest and give 
it to me, and then I will undertake your case.' 

" And why should the jury be able to pardon ? 
Only the plaintiff can pardon ; but the jury whom 
he has not hurt have nothing to pardon him for. 

" I once talked to N. V. Davidov, and said 
to him that all punishment may be dispensed 
with, yet an enquiry ought to be made ; and 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 45 

when the crime is proved, they should go to 
the criminal and accuse him in the presence of 
all of his crime, and should bring forward the 
proof of his guilt. It is quite likely that the 
man will say : ' Be damned to you, it is none 
of your business ! ' But still I think that this 
method would more often give positive results 
than the existing system of punishment." 

Speaking of the Government, Tolstoi said : 

" I wonder why they have not put me into 
prison yet ? Particularly now, after my article 
on ' Patriotism.' Perhaps they have not read 
it yet ? It ought to be sent to them." 

Tolstoi spoke again of his indifference to 
modern complicated music : 

" I tried to accustom myself to modern dis- 
sonances, but these are all a perversion of taste. 
A modern composer takes a musical idea, now 
and then even a lovely one, and twists it round 
and round without end or measure, combines 
it with other themes, and, when at last he manages 
to express something simple, one is ready to 
heave a sigh of relief and say : Thank God ! " 

July 4th. Yesterday Tolstoi said to me : 
" Buddha says that happiness consists in 
doing as much good as possible to others. How- 
ever strange this may seem on the face of it, yet 



46 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

it is true without a doubt : happiness is only- 
possible when the struggle for personal happiness 
is renounced." 

Then Tolstoi smiled and said : 

" And yet you play the piano ! But certainly 
that is better than many other things. At any 
rate you need not pass sentence on any one, or 
commit murder." 

Tolstoi said of newspapers : 

" At present the newspaper infection has 
reached its ultimate limits. All the questions 
of the day are artificially puffed up by the news- 
papers. The worst danger is that the newspapers 
present everything ready made, without making 
people stop to think about anything. A liberal 
Kuzminsky, or even a Koni, takes his fresh 
newspaper with his morning coffee, reads it, 
goes to his court, where he meets others who 
have just read the very same newspaper, and the 
contagion is spread ! " 

Tolstoi went on to say : 

" It has suddenly become perfectly clear to 
me that the evil lies in regulations, i.e. the chief 
thing is not that people do wrong, but that some 
force others to do a wrong which is considered 
to be right. Hitherto not a single one even of 
the most extreme socialist doctrines has dispensed 
with compulsion. But slavery will only cease 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 47 

when every one is free to choose his work and 
the time needed for it. 

" People always put an end to things by 
asking : ' Well ; let us suppose that we have 
liberated the slave, what will follow next ? How 
is it going to be done ? ' I do not know how it 
is going to be done, but I do know that the 
existing order is the greatest evil, and therefore 
I must try to take as little part as possible in 
keeping it going. But what will come in place 
of that evil — I do not and must not know. For 
what reason did we, the well-to-do classes, take 
upon ourselves the role of the controllers of 
life ? Let the freed slaves arrange things for 
themselves. I know only this, that it is bad to 
be a slave and worse still to own slaves, and 
therefore I must rid myself of the evil. That's 
all." 

Tolstoi wanted to take for the motto of his 
new book, The Slavery of our Times, Marx's 
saying that since the capitalists made themselves 
masters of the working classes the European 
governments lost all shame. 

Tolstoi praised Elzbacher's book on anarchy, 
in which the doctrines of seven anarchists are 
expounded : of Godwin, Proudhon, Max Stirner, 
Bakunin, Kropotkin, B. P. Tucker, and Tolstoi 
himself. 



48 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Tolstoi said : 

" I myself can remember at the beginning 
of the socialist movement in Russia that the 
word ' socialist ' was only spoken in a whisper ; 
but when Professor Ivanyukov in the first years 
of the eighties openly wrote his book on social- 
ism, it was already a widely spread doctrine in 
Western Europe. It is in the same way that 
the public now regard anarchism, often crudely 
identifying this doctrine with the throwing of 
bombs." 

Of Elzbacher's book Tolstoi said : 

" At the end of the book is an alphabetical 
index of the words used by the seven anarchists. 
It appears that the word Zwang, compulsion, 
violence, is absent only in the exposition of my 
views." 

Sergeenko was telling Tolstoi about Volinsky's 
book on Leonardo da Vinci, and said it was a 
fine book. 

Tolstoi remarked : 

" Yes, it seems to be one of those books 
which are good in that it is not necessary to 
read them." 

Tolstoi said yesterday about doctors and 
science generally : 

" How trivial and unnecessary are all our 
sciences ! It is true that exact sciences — mathe- 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 



49 



matics and chemistry, although quite unimportant 
for the improvement of moral life, are at any 
rate exact and positive. But, although medical 
science has a great deal of knowledge, that 
amount is nothing in proportion to what is 
needed in order actually to know anything. 
And what is the good of it ? " 

I replied to Tolstoi that, although in theory 
it may be so, yet in practice, when some one is 
ill, one always wants to help them. 

To this Tolstoi replied : 

" It often happens that if some one is seriously 
ill, those around him, at the bottom of their 
hearts, want him to die, in order to be rid of him 
— he is in their way." 

Tolstoi said to Sophie Andreevna : 

" It's time for us to die," and he quoted 
Pushkin's lines : 

" And then our heir in a lucky moment will 
crush us down with a heavy monument." 

July ^th. Tolstoi went for a walk to-day 
with myself and P. A. Sergeenko. We passed 
through the splendid young fir-tree forest on 
the left of the road to Kozlovka. 

Tolstoi said : 

" I am trying to like and appreciate the modern 
writers, but it is so difficult. Dostoevsky often 

D 



5 o TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

wrote so badly, so weakly and incompetently, from 
the point of view of technique ; but what a lot he 
always has to say ! Taine said that for one page 
of Dostoevsky's he would give, all French novels. 

" And technique has now reached a wonderful 
perfection. A Mme. Lukhmanov or Mme. D. 
writes quite wonderfully. What are Turgenev 
or myself compared with her ! She could give 
us forty points' start of her ! " 

Tolstoi has recently re-read all Chekhov's 
short stories. To-day he said of Chekhov : 

" His mastery is of the highest order. I have 
been re-reading his stories with the greatest 
pleasure. Some, as, for instance, ' Children,' 
6 Sleepy,' ' In Court,' are real masterpieces. I 
really read one story after another with great 
pleasure. And yet it is all a mosaic ; there is 
no connecting inner link. 

" The most important thing in a work of art 
is that it should have a kind of focus, i.e. there 
should be some place where all the rays meet or 
from which they issue. And this focus must 
not be able to be completely explained in words. 
This indeed is one of the significant facts about 
a true work of art — that its content in its entirety 
can be expressed only by itself." 

Tolstoi finds a great likeness between the 
talents of Chekhov and Maupassant. He prefers 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 51 

Maupassant for his greater joy in life. But, on 
the other hand, Chekhov's gift is a purer gift 
then Maupassant's. 

Sergeenko, I don't remember in what con- 
nection, recalled a poem by Lermontov. 

Tolstoi said : 

" He had indeed a permanent and powerful 
seeking after truth ! Pushkin has not that moral 
significance, but the sense of beauty is developed 
in him more highly than in any one else. In 
Chekhov, and in modern writers generally, 
there is an extraordinary development of the 
technique, of realism. In Chekhov everything 
is real to the verge of illusion. His stories give | , 
the impression of a stereoscope. He throws 
words about in apparent disorder, and, like an 
impressionist painter, he achieves wonderful 
results by his touches." 

Tolstoi likes M. Gorky very much as a man. 
He begins, however, to be disappointed with his 
work. 

Tolstoi said of him : 

" Gorky lacks a sense of proportion. He 
has a familiar style which is unpleasant." 

Tolstoi wrote a short preface to Von Polenz's 
novel Der Biittnerbauer. 

On that occasion he said : 

" As I read the novel, I kept saying to myself : 



52 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

c Why did not you, you fool, write this novel?' — 
indeed, I know this world ; and how very im- 
portant it is to point out the poetry of peasant life ! 
Men with their civilization will cut down this lime 
tree here, this forest ; they will lay pavements and 
make houses with tall chimneys, and they will 
destroy the boundless beauty of natural life." 

On my asking him whether he had ever tried 
to write such a novel, Tolstoi said that he had 
done so several times long ago. 

Tolstoi said of Grigorovich : 

" He is now old-fashioned and seems feeble, 
but he is an important and remarkable writer, 
and God grant that Chekhov may be a tenth 
part as important as Grigorovich was. He 
belonged to the number of the best men who 
found an important movement. He has also 
many artistic merits. For instance, in the begin- 
ning of his Anton Goremika, when the old peasant 
comes home and gives his son or grandson a 
twig, it is a moving incident which depicts the 
old peasant as well as the simplicity and artless- 
ness of his life." 

Of Turgenev, Tolstoi said : 

" He was a typical representative of the men 
of the 'fifties — a radical in the best sense of the 
word. His struggle against serfdom is remark- 
able, and also his love for what he describes; 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 53 

for instance, the way he describes the old man 
in Old Portraits, And then there is his sensitive- 
ness to the beauties of nature." 

Speaking of the province of criticism, Tolstoi 
said : 

" The value of criticism consists in pointing 
out all the good that there is in this or that work 
of art, and in thus directing the opinion of the 
public, whose tastes are mostly crude and the 
majority of whom have no feeling for beauty. 
Just as it is difficult to be a really good critic, 
so it is easy for the most stupid and limited man 
to become a critic ; and as good critics are 
needed, so bad critics are merely harmful. It is ' 
a particularly absurd and cheap habit of critics 
to express, in talking of other people's work, all 
sorts of personal ideas which have nothing to 
do with the book they are criticizing. This is 
the most useless gossip." 

July jth. Tolstoi said that all human vices 
can be reduced to three classes : (1) anger, mal- 
evolence ; (2) vanity ; and (3) lust — in the widest 
sense of the word. The last is the most powerful. 

In the morning, at coffee, Tolstoi sighed and 
said : 

"Yes, it is hard, it is hard. ... It is hard 
because falsehood and arrogance prevail in the 



54 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

higher ranks of society, and because there is 
much darkness among the people. The other 
day two sectarians of the priestless sect came to 
me from Tula : one a young one, evidently 
of little understanding, and the other an old 
man, who, while we talked, kept putting on 
his spectacles. The old man turned out to 
be understanding, wise, and said many things 
to the point, as though he agreed with my 
religious views ; and yet when I offered them 
tea they refused because they had not brought 
their tea things with them." 

On the occasion of the Boxer rising Tolstoi 
said : 

" It is terrible that it should happen in such an 
awful way. But, although it is difficult to foresee, 
yet it is to be expected that after the war a greater 
understanding will take place between Europeans 
and the Chinese ; and I think that the Chinese 
are bound to have a most beneficial influence 
on us, if only because of their extraordinary 
capacity for work and of their ability to grow more 
on a small plot of land and obtain better results 
than we do on a space a dozen times larger." 

Tolstoi compares the present state of Europe 
with the end of the Roman Empire. The 
Chinese, in his opinion, play the part of the 
" barbarians." 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 55 

Tolstoi said to-day : 

" All our actions are divided into those which 
have a value, and those which have no value at 
all, in the face of death. If I were told that I 
had to die to-morrow, I should not go out for 
a ride on horseback ; but if I were about to die 
this moment, and Levochka here " (Leo Lvovich's 
son, who passed across the terrace at that moment 
with his nurse) " fell and burst into tears, I 
should run to him and pick him up. We are l 
all in the position of passengers from a ship 
which has reached an island. We have gone 
on shore, we walk about and gather shells, 
but we must always remember that, when the 
whistle sounds, all the little shells will have 
to be thrown away and we must run to the 
boat." 

Sophie Andreevna, who was present during 
some of the talks, argued all the time, and 
answered Tolstoi in a very feminine way. When 
Sophie Andreevna on a walk said that a woman, 
while her husband writes novels and philo- 
sophical articles, has to bear, to give birth to, 
and to rear her children, and how difficult all 
this is, Tolstoi became indignant and exclaimed 
with a bitterness that was rare in him : 

" What terrible things you are saying, Son- 
echka ! A woman who is annoyed at having 



56 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

children and does not desire them is not a woman, 
but a whore ! " 

In the evening we sat on the balcony : Tolstoi, 
Sergeenko, and myself. 

Tolstoi wondered at the illogicality of women, 
and turning to me said : 

" Peter Alexeevich and myself have a right 
to speak about women, but you have none. 
One must have a wife and daughters to do this. 
Daughters are perhaps the more important of 
the two. Daughters are the only women who 
are not ' women ' at all to a man, and who can 
be known fully from the beginning. With 
sisters such a relation is impossible, for one grows 
up side by side with them ; a certain rivalry 
enters into the relation, and one cannot know 
one's sister, entirely, as a whole." 

Sergeenko asked Tolstoi's advice as to how 
to educate his son sexually. 

Tolstoi said to him : 

" These questions are so dangerous that it is 
better that parents should not speak of them at 
all to their children. It is only necessary to 
watch the influence of surroundings. At times a 
vicious boy, or one who is not vicious at all, but 
spoilt in this sense, can corrupt a whole circle 
of boys. It is best of all that a growing boy 
should be as much as possible among young 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 57 

girls. But there are among modern girls some t, 
that are worse than young men. If a feeling of 
romance is felt for any girl, this is the best 
protection against immorality. ..." 

July izth. Yesterday I returned home. On 
the day of my departure during our walk Sophie 
Andreevna was talking about the sale of the 
Samara estate, which she has completed for four 
hundred and fifty thousand roubles (Tolstoi 
originally bought the estate cheap), and by the 
sale of which Andrey, Michael, and Alexandra 
will get 150,000 roubles each. This money was 
the topic of conversation during the last few 
days, and how the sons meant to buy this or 
some other estate. At the end of the walk 
Tolstoi and myself found ourselves ahead of the 
others. Suddenly he gave a heavy sigh. 

I asked him : " Why do you sigh, Leo 
Nikolaevich ? " 

" If you knew how painful it is to me to hear | 
it all ! I have it always on my conscience that 
I, with my wish to renounce property, once 
bought estates. It is funny to think that it 
seems now as if I had wished to make provision 
for my children, and in doing so I did them the k 
greatest injury. Look at my Andryusha. He 
is completely incapable of doing anything, and 



5 8 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

lives on the people whom I once robbed and 
whom my children keep on robbing. How 
terrible it is to listen to all this talk now, to 
watch it all going on ! It is so opposed to my 
ideas and desires and to everything I live by. 
. . . Oh ! that they would spare me! . . ." 

Tolstoi was silent for a time, and then 
said : 

" Why did I suddenly begin complaining ? " 
At that moment Tatyana Lvovna came up, 
and our conversation turned on other subjects. 

Tolstoi talked about poetry. 

" When a poem deals with love, flowers, 
etc., it is a comparatively innocent occupation 
until the age of sixteen. But to express in verse 
an important and serious idea without distorting 
the idea is almost impossible. How very difficult 
it is to express one's thoughts by words only, 
so that every one understands just what you want 
to express ! How much more difficult, then, it is 
when the writer is bound by metre and rhyme ! 
Only the very great poets have succeeded in 
doing it, and rarely too. Perfectly false ideas 
are often hidden behind verses." 

An undergraduate who had written an article 
upon Tolstoi in reply to Nordau's criticism 
came, and turned out to be a foolish young man. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 59 

Tolstoi had been unwell for the last few days 
and in a bad temper, so that he came to us quite 
upset and said : 

" No, it is time, it is time for me to die ! 
They stick to some single idea, which they 
arbitrarily choose from the rest, and go on and 
on repeating: Non-resistance! non-resistance! 
How am I to blame for it ? " 

Sophie Andreevna said to me : 

" The private life of famous men is always 
distorted in their biographies. They are sure 
to make me out a Xantippe. You must take 
my side, Alexander Borisovich ! " . . . 

During our walk Sophie Andreevna showed 
me the spot which is called "the apiary," and 
said: 

" There actually was an apiary here once. 
Leo N. was at one time mad about bees, and used 
to spend whole days in the apiary. We often 
drove here, taking a samovar and having tea 
here. Once Fet came here, and we went to 
join Leo N. at the apiary. It was a wonderful 
evening ; we sat here for a long time ; and there 
were many glow-worms in the grass. Leo N. 
said to me : ' Now, Sonia, you always wanted 
emerald earrings; take two glow-worms for 
earrings.' Thereupon Fet wrote a poem in 
which were these lines : 



6o TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

In my hand is thy hand — what a marvel ! 

On the ground are two glow-worms, two emeralds." 

At another point Sophie Andreevna showed 
me the field where Tolstoi and Turgenev once 
stood when shooting, and she was with them. 

Sophie Andreevna said : 

" It was the last time Turgenev stayed at 
Yasnaya, not long before his death. I asked 
him : ' Ivan Sergeevich, why don't you write 
now ? ' He answered : ' In order to write I 
had always to be a little in love. Now I am 
old, I can't fall in love any more, and that is 
why I have stopped writing.' " 

December z-jth. Last night I was at the Tol- 
stois'. There were Tolstoi, Ilya, and Andrey 
(Tolstoi's sons). A message arrived that Tatyana 
Lvovna had given birth prematurely to a still- 
born child ; a day before, news reached Yasnaya 
Polyana that the son of Leo Lvovich, a boy 
of about two, was dead. Sophie Andreevna 
left for Yasnaya. There was an atmosphere 
of depression. 

Tolstoi played chess with me. Later P. S. 
Usov came, who also played a game of chess 
with Tolstoi. We began to talk. Tolstoi be- 
came animated. The post arrived. There were 
three letters from Chertkov. In one of them 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 61 

there were many pages of closely written manu- 
script. 

Tolstoi glanced at it and said : 

"It is probably a woman's writing. How 
nice it would be if one need not read it ! " 

The manuscript, however, turned out not to 
be from a woman, so that Tolstoi put it aside 
to read it. 

Referring to his daughter's misfortune, Tolsto^ 
said : 

" I am fLOt jsorry that my daughters have no 
children ; I cannot be glad that I have grand- 
children. I know that they will inevitably grow 
up to be idlers. My daughters are certainly 
anxious that this should not be so, but consider- 
ing the surroundings in which they will have to 
be brought up, it is very difficult to avoid it. All I 
my life long I have had these surroundings, and, 
however much I struggle, I can do nothing. 
Now, during the Christmas season I can't bear 
to look at this mad extravagance ; these visits. / 
What a terrible absurdity it is ! " 

Usov was saying in what circumstances a 
doctor has the right to bring on birth artificially, 
thereby killing the baby. 

Tolstoi replied : 

" It is always immoral. For the most part, 
when there are various ways of relieving the 



6z) TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 



patient, oxygen, etc., it is difficult to abstain 
from using them ; but it would be better if 
they did not exist. We shall all die without 
fail, and the doctors' activity is directed towards 
fighting death. But to die — in ten days or in 
ten years — is all the same. How terrible it is 
that it is always concealed from the patient that 
he is dying ! We are none of us accustomed 
to look death in the face ! " 

Usov defended the activity of doctors, con- 
sidering it a useful one. 

Tolstoi said : 

" It is for this reason that I consider the 
activity of doctors harmful : people are crowded 
in towns ; they are infected with syphilis and 
consumption ; they are kept in terrible conditions, 
and then millions are spent on the establishment 
of hospitals and clinics. But why not spend 
that energy, not in curing people, but in im- 
proving the conditions of their lives ? While 
numbers of healthy, useful peasants are infected 
with all sorts of diseases, and are worn out by 
work beyond their strength, so that they die 
at thirty instead of seventy, some useless old 
woman who is quite incurable has spent upon 
her all the treatment that medicine can supply. 

" All modern sciences do the very opposite 
of what they set out to do. Theology hides 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI f6^\ 

moral truths, jurisprudence obscures in every 
possible way the conception of justice, the 
natural sciences teach materialism, and history 
distorts the true life of the people. Darwin's 
theory is in agreement with the crude fable of 
Moses. All discussions on Darwinism are 
polemics against Moses. 

" Every young man growing up in Russia 
passes through a terrible contagion, a sort of 
moral syphilis ; in the first place, the Orthodox 
Church, and then, when he frees himself from 
that, the doctrines of materialism. The best 
physiologists, like KrafFt-Ebing or Claude Bernard, 
openly admit that, however carefully we investi- 
gate even a simple cell, there is always some x 
in its composition which we do not understand. 
Consequently the complex of organisms and 
the social conditions of life are an x raised to 
the x degree. And if we cannot investigate a 
cell completely, then how can we realize the 
laws which govern the life of human societies ? 
Yet some blockhead like B. assures us that it is 
all very simple, and the science of history can 
deduce immutable laws by which human life is 
shaped. 

" Look at all our historians : what dull, stupid 
men they are ! For instance, Solovev. He was 
an incredibly dull man. And when some one 



e 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 



gifted appears among them — a Granovsky, Kosto- 
marov, Kudryavzev — and you ask, 'What after 
all have they done ? ' it turns out that they have 
done nothing of any importance or value. Take 
Kluchevsky, for instance : what has he done ? 
He talks brilliantly, toys with the liberal point 
of view about Catherine the Great, and says 
that she was a whore — well, we knew that 
without him. Or take the man who dances 
the mazurka in the Moscovskya Vedomsti, 
Ilovaisky — he is an historian too ! 

" What should be taught at school ? Long 
ago, when I was interested in education, I came 
to the conclusion that school teaching ought to 
consist of two branches only, of languages and 
mathematics. This is the only positive know- 
ledge that one can give a pupil. There is no 
humbug about this. Either you know it or 
you don't know it. Besides, from this funda- 
mental knowledge all science can develop. From 
mathematics come astronomy, physics, natural 
sciences. From languages, history, geography, 
and so on. But with us, who is taught and what 
are they taught ? To-day I walked in the street. 
Drunken men were going about, swearing 
obscenely, dragging women after them. Who 
has ever said a single word to these men about 
their moral needs ? What did we teach them ? 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 65 

" The other evening I was coming home 
from the Turkish bath and walked near the 
theatres. Policemen on horseback were loung- 
ing about ; coachmen with buttocks like this " 
(Tolstoi illustrated it with his hands) " and rows 
of buttons on their backs sit on the boxes. 
And in the illuminated theatres, crowded with 
people, a divine service is performed : a silly and 
distorted story Sadko (an opera) is acted, or 
1 When we dead awaken ' is played. It's sheer 
madness ! " 



igoi 

Moscow, February ist. Tolstoi began about a 
couple of months ago to learn Dutch, and now 
he reads quite easily, at the age of seventy-three ! 

He has an original way of learning languages : 
he gets the New Testament in the language he 
wants to know, and whilst reading it through he 
learns the language. 

Tolstoi said to me recently about modern 
art : 

" The sense of shame is lost. I cannot call 
it anything else — the sense of aesthetic shame. 
I wonder if you know the feeling ? I feel it 
most strongly when I read something that is 
artistically false, and I can call it nothing else 
but shame." 

With regard to his play, The Corpse, Tolstoi 
said to me : 

" The son of the wife of the man I described 
came to me, and then the man himself. The 
son on behalf of his mother asked me not to 

66 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 67 

publish the play, 1 because it would be very 
painful to her, and also because she was afraid 
of the consequences. I of course promised. 

" Their visit was very interesting and useful 
to me. Once more, as so many times before, 
I was convinced how much feebler and more 
unreal are the psychological motives which one 
invents oneself in order to explain actions. 
The actions of one's imaginary characters are 
then the motives which guided those people in 
real life. After talking to these people I cooled 
to my work." 

On another occasion, in the dining-room 
downstairs, animated conversation was going on 
among the younger people. Tolstoi, who was 
resting in the next room in the dark, afterwards 
came into the dining-room and said to me : 

"I lay there and listened to your talk. It 
interested me from two points of view : it was 
interesting simply to hear young people talking, 
and then it was also interesting from the dramatic 

1 The theme of The Corpse became known to the newspapers 
through Tolstoi's copyist, Alexander Petrovich, who, in a drunken 
bout in the Khitrovka, told a fellow drunkard, a reporter of the 
Novosti Dnya, that Tolstoi was writing a play, and also told him 
the subject of the play. The reporter made an article of it and 
published it in the paper. This was the cause of the dramatis 
personae coming to Tolstoi, and it was also one of the reasons why 
Tolstoi left the play unfinished. (Years afterwards the play, 
finished, was published and entitled The Living Corpse.) 



68 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

point of view. I listened and said to myself: This 
is how one ought to write for the stage. It is not 
one speaking and the others listening. It is never 
like that. It is necessary that all should speak, 
and the art of the writer consists in making what 
he wants run through it like a beautiful thread." 

March %th. Yesterday Tolstoi was in good 
form. At tea he laughed and joked. The 
conversation was about luxury. 

Tolstoi said : 

" How much more money people spend 
nowadays than they used ! When Sophie Andre- 
evna and I lived in Yasnaya, our income from 
the Nikolsky estate was about five thousand 
roubles and we lived superbly. I remember when 
Sophie Andreevna bought little mats to lay by 
the beds, it seemed to me a useless and incredible 
luxury. And now my sons — I seem to have 
about twenty of them — squander money right 
and left, buy dogs, horses, gramophones. I 
asked myself then, why buy carpets when we 
have slippers ? Certainly we did not go bare- 
foot, but, behold, Riepin painted me decollete, 
barefooted, in a shirt ! I have to thank him for 
not having taken off my nether garments ! And 
he never asked me, if I liked it ! But I have 
long since got used to being treated as if I were 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 69 

dead. There, in the Peredvizhni exhibition, you 
will see the Devil (Riepin's ' Temptation of 
Christ '), and you'll also see the man possessed 
by the Devil ! " 

On February 25 th Tolstoi's excommunication 
was announced. That day Tolstoi and A. N. 
Dunaev went on some business to a doctor and 
came into the Lubiansky Square. In the square, 
by the fountain, the crowd recognized Tolstoi. 
At first, as Dunaev relates, an ironical voice was 
heard : " Here's the Devil in the likeness of a 
man ! " This served for a signal. The crowd 
threw* themselves like one man on Tolstoi. All 
shouted and threw up their hats. Tolstoi was 
confused ; he didn't know what to do and walked 
away almost at a run. The crowd followed him. 
With great difficulty Tolstoi and Dunaev managed 
to get a sledge at the corner of Neglinny. The 
crowd wanted to stop the cabman and many 
held on to the sledge. At that moment a troop 
of mounted police appeared, let the cab through, 
and immediately made a ring and cut off the crowd. 

On the occasion of his excommunication 
Tolstoi received, and is still receiving, a number 
of addresses, letters of sympathy, etc. One lady 
sent him a piece of holy bread and a letter in 
which she said that she had just received the 



7 o TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Sacrament and took the Host for his benefit. 
She ends her letter : " Eat it in health and pay 
no heed to these stupid priests." 

August yth. I was the other day in Yasnaya 
Polyana. Tolstoi is hale and hearty. I have 
not seen him like that for a long time. 

The conversation was about Russian writers. 

Tolstoi said : 

" I was fond of Turgenev as a man. As a 
writer, I do not attribute particular importance 
to him or to Goncharov. Their subjects, the 
number of ordinary characters and love scenes, 
have too ephemeral an importance. If I were 
asked which of the Russian writers I consider 
the most important, I would say : Pushkin, 
Lermontov, Gogol, Hertzen, whom our Liberals 
have forgotten, and Dostoevsky, whom they 
do not read at all. Well, and then : Griboedov, 
Ostrovsky, Tyutchev." 

Of Gogol's works Tolstoi does not like Taras 
Bulba at all. He far prefers The Kevisor {Inspector 
General), Dead Souls, Shinel, Kolias^a (" it's a 
masterpiece in miniature "), Nevs^y Prospect. Of 
Pushkin's works, he considers Boris Godunov a 
failure. 

It is characteristic that in making his selection 
Tolstoi said : 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 71 

" I do not speak of myself ; it's not for me, 
but for others, to judge of my importance." 

That evening in his study Tolstoi said to me : 
"Alexander Borisovich, an image comes before 
me. Rays spread out from a centre. The centre 
is the spiritual essence ; the rays are the per- 
petually growing needs of the body. A time 
comes when a spiritual life begins to exist inside 
these rays. They spread out at an ever diminish- 
ing angle, become parallel, and at last draw 
together and finally unite in the one infinitely 
small and entirely spiritual centre — death." 

Gaspra, Crimea. September 11th. Chekhov 
was here yesterday. He does not look well ; 
he looks old and coughs perpetually. He speaks 
little, in short sentences, but they are always to 
the point. He gave a touching account of his 
life with his mother in the winter at Yalta. 
Tolstoi was very glad to see him. 

Gaspra, Crimea. September i6tb. Life here 
goes on very quietly. 

After dinner I or N. L. Obolensky, or both 
in turn, read Chekhov's stories aloud, which 
Tolstoi greatly enjoys. The other day I read 
The Tedious Story. Tolstoi was in constant 



72 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

raptures over Chekhov's understanding. He 
also liked, for the originality of the idea and the 
mastery of the writing, The Bet, and particularly 
The Steppe. 

Of Chekhov Tolstoi said : 

" He is a strange writer : he throws words 
about as if at random, and yet everything is 
alive. And what understanding ! He never has 
any superfluous details ; every one of them is 
either necessary or beautiful." 

September 20th. I told Tolstoi about the 
article in the Moscow Courier where Maeterlinck's 
is quoted as saying that Poiver of Darkness is in 
his opinion almost the greatest play. 
Tolstoi laughed and said : 
" Why doesn't he imitate it, then ? " 



1902 

Moscow, January 15th. Tolstoi once told me : 

" When I went to see Power of Darkness acted 
I sat in the gallery on purpose so as not to be 
recognized. Yet I was recognized ; they began 
to tell me to go on the stage, and I hurried 
home at once. But there was a moment when 
I could hardly restrain myself from stepping 
on to the stage and beginning to speak, to say 
everything— whatever that may be." 

January 15//&. Gorky read aloud to Tolstoi the 
end of Mazzini's book On the Duties of Man, 
which Tolstoi likes very much. While Gorky 
was reading, Tolstoi, who had read the book 
more than once, was almost moved to tears. 

Madame N. N. Den told me the following 
story, which she had from her sister. When 
Tolstoi was very ill he thought he was dying, and 
took leave and said good-bye to all who were 
present. Leo Lvovich was the only one of 
Tolstoi's children who was absent, and Tolstoi v 

73 



74 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

dictated a letter to him. Those who read it say 
that this farewell letter at the point of death was 
deeply moving. The letter, however, was not 
sent, for Leo Lvovich arrived at Gaspra in 
person. When he came into Tolstoi's room, 
Tolstoi said that it was difficult for him to speak, 
but that he had expressed all his thoughts and 
feelings in the letter, which he handed to his son. 
Leo Lvovich read the letter at once in Tolstoi's 
room, then came into the next room, and, in 
the presence of all those who were there (Countess 
Sophie Nicolaevna included), tore his dying 
father's letter into little bits and threw it in the 
wastepaper basket. . . . 

Yasnaya Poly ana, July z*,th. I have been 
here a few days. Tolstoi is well physically. 

To-day Tolstoi said to Doctor Butkevich : 

" The only true way for a man to improve 
human life is by the way of moral perfection in 
his personal life. Spiritual life is a constant 
progress, a constant effort towards the realization 
of truth." 

The conversation turned upon literature. It 
began with my saying that Sienkewiaz's novel, 
The Sword Bearers, was a boring book. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Yes, for some reason I began it, but I could 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 75 

not read it. Do you remember how, when one 
is a child, one sometimes gets a piece of meat 
which one chews and chews and chews, and one 
can't deal with it, and at last one quietly spits 
it out and throws it under the table." 

Then Tolstoi remembered B.'s story which 
he read recently : 

" It begins with a superb description of 
nature — a little shower, which is done as Tur- 
genev even could not do it, let alone myself. 
And then there is a girl. She dreams of him " 
(Tolstoi shortly told the plot of the story), " and 
all this — the girl's silly emotion, the little shower 
— all this is needed, in order that B. may write 
a story. Just as in ordinary life, when people 
have nothing to say they talk about the weather, 
so writers, when they have nothing to write 
about, write about the weather, and it is time to 
put an end to it. Yes, there was a little shower ; 
there might just as well have been no shower at 
all. I think that all this must come to an end 
in literature. It is simply impossible to read 
any longer. 

"I once belonged to the guild of authors, and 
from habit I watch and am interested in every- 
thing that goes on there." 

Tolstoi quoted a few instances of misstate- 
ments and inaccuracies in writers like Uspensky 






-jG TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

and Korolenko, but said that these were only 
slips. But when psychological mistakes are 
made, when the characters in novels and stories 
do what, from their spiritual nature, they cannot 
do, it is a terrible failing, and the works of the 
Andreevs, etc., are full of such mistakes. Even 
in Gorky it is always happening. For instance, 
it is the case in his story about the silver clasps, 
or in the opinions of the women in Three. His 
Burghers is utterly uninteresting. The surround- 
ings are indefinite, untypical ; nobody can make 
anything of it at all. 

" I am always afraid of falling into the old 
man's habit of being unable to appreciate or to 
understand the present. But I try my best and 
genuinely can find no beauty in the modern 
tendencies of art. There has recently appeared 
a very just article by E. Markov on Gorky. The 
writer, rather timidly — for Gorky has become 
such an idol that people dare not speak of him — 
has pointed out correctly that modern Russian 
literature has completely turned away from those 
high moral problems which it formerly pursued. 
And indeed what a complete denial of moral 
principles there is ! You may be vicious, you 
may rob or kill ; there is nothing to restrain the 
individual ; all is allowed. . . . 

" But still I am impressed by the fact that 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 77 

Gorky is translated in Europe and greatly read 
there. Undoubtedly there is something new in 
him. His chief merit is that he was the first to 
draw the world of outcasts and tramps from the 
life, which until then no one had attempted. 
In this respect he did what Turgenev and 
Grigorovich did in their day for the world of 
peasants. 

" I love Chekhov very much and value his 
writings, but I could not make myself read his 
play, The Three Sisters. What is it all for ? 
Generally speaking, modern writers have lost 
the conception of drama. Drama, instead of 
telling us the whole of a man's life, must place 
him in such a situation, tie such a knot, that, 
when it is untied, the whole man is made visible. * ■ 
Now, I allowed myself to criticize Shakespeare. 
But with him every character is alive ; and it is 
always clear why he acts as he does. In Shake- 
speare's theatre there were boards with inscrip- 
tions c moonlight,' ' a house,' because (Heaven 
be praised !) the whole attention was concentrated 
on the substance of the drama. Now it is just 
the opposite." 

Tolstoi spoke with disgust of Andreev's 
Abyss, and said : 

"With regard to Leonid Andreev, I always 
remember a story by Ginzburg about a boy who 



78 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

cannot pronounce the letter c r' and says to his 
friend : ' I went for a walk and suddenly I see 
a wolf. . . . Are you fwightened? Are you 
fwightened ? ' 

" So Andreev also keeps on asking me : 
c Are you fwightened ? ' and I am not in the least 
frightened." 

Yesterday the conversation was about the 
Hertzen, Bakunin, and Belinsky circle. Tolstoi 
said : 

" The most characteristic thing about that 
circle was a kind of epicureanism, or at least the 
denial of, the complete failure to understand, 
a religious conception of the world. Doctor 
Nikitin, for instance, was surprised that I did 
not think Gogol mad. They thought him mad, 
because he believed in God. And they could 
not even understand what was going on in his 
soul." 

Tolstoi spoke very disapprovingly of Belin- 
sky's famous letter to Gogol. 

Doctor Butkevich asked Tolstoi if he had 
read Maeterlinck's new play, Monna Vanna. 

Tolstoi replied : 

" Why should I ? Have I committed a 
crime ? " 

Some one observed that common people are 
very seldom interested by Power of Darkness. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 79 

Tolstoi said : 

" To interest the people one must write more 
simply and much more shortly, as Sophie 
Andreevna paints ; everything in profile and 
everything on the plane, and yet no other pictures 
are enjoyed so much by children. In the same 
way, form must be simple and primitive if it is 
to be enjoyed by the people." 

Tolstoi went on to say : 

" I have been thinking a great deal about it 
lately. There are two kinds of art, and both 
are equally needed — one simply gives pleasure 
and comfort to people, the other teaches 
them." 

Yesterday Tolstoi criticized the scientists (he 
mentioned Mechnikov) for their denial and mis- 
understanding of a religious conception of the 
world. 

Some one mentioned the new Russian Uni- 
versity in Paris. 

Tolstoi is sceptical about it and said : 

" Some seventy young women come and 
listen to the professors who teach them." 

Mme. Stakhovich said something about the 
harm that is done to the girl students, but 
Tolstoi said : 

" Well, they are bad enough already without 
that." 



8o TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

July z%th. The other day we walked in the 
woods. Tolstoi sat down on his camp stool, 
which was given him by N. He sighed and 
said : 

" Yes, poor fellow ! " 

Then he turned to Marie Lvovna and asked : 

" Masha, who's the poor fellow ? " 

" I do not know, papa." 

" Buddha. N. bespattered Socrates, and now 
he is going to do the same to Buddha." 

Yesterday Tolstoi was showing us a portrait 
group of the Tolstoi brothers, and, pointing to 
his brother Nicolay, said : 

" He was my beloved brother. He was the 
man of whom Turgenev justly said that he had 
not a single one of the faults which one must 
have in order to be a writer. And I, although 
it is wrong of me, must say of my son Leo, 
that he, on the contrary, has all these faults, but 
none of the gifts, which are needed for a writer." 

Ilya Lvovich said to Mme. Stakhovich that 
a writer must himself experience everything in 
order to tell it to others. 

Tolstoi replied : 

" Mere technique is sometimes enough to 
describe what he has experienced. A real 
writer, as Goethe justly observed, must be able 
to describe everything. And I must say that, 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 81 

although I am not very fond of Goethe, he 
could do it." 

To-day Tolstoi was enthusiastic about Mozart's 
operas, particularly about Don Juan. Together 
with the extraordinary richness of its melody, 
he rates very high its power to give in music 
the reflection of characters and situations. 
Tolstoi recalled the statue of the commander, 
the village scene, and especially the duel. 

He said : 

" I hear there a presentiment, as it were, of 
the tragic denouement, together with the excite- 
ment and even the romance of the duel." . . . 

Then Tolstoi turned the conversation to the 
importance and province of form in art : 

" I think that every great artist necessarily 
creates his own form also. If the content of 
works of art can be infinitely varied, so also 
can their form. Once Turgenev and I came 
back from the theatre in Paris and discussed this. 
He completely agreed with me. We recalled 
all that is best in Russian literature and it seemed 
that in these works the form was perfectly 
original. Omitting Pushkin, let us take Gogol's 
Dead Souls. What is it ? Neither a novel nor 
a story. It is a something perfectly original. 
Then there is the Memoirs of a Sportsman, the 
best book Turgenev ever wrote ; then Dostoev- 



82 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

sky's House of the Dead, and then, sinner that I 
J am, my Childhood', Hertzen's Past and Thoughts ; 
Lermontov's Hero of our Time. . . ." 

August ist. Tolstoi talked with Marie Alex- 
androvna Schmidt in my presence about a certain 
Khokhlov who went mad. 

Tolstoi told me his story briefly, and then said : 

" What a riddle insanity is ! What is he — 
alive or dead ? " 

I said that insanity is not a greater riddle 
than sanity. The mystery is how the personality 
which lives in me manifests itself through the 
brain. But if I admit that the first cause is not 
in my brain, but outside it, and the brain is only 
a means by which my personality is shown, then 
it is for me no fresh mystery that that personality 
of mine cannot be manifested when the machine 
of the brain is disordered. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Yes, it is all a mystery ! Let us take a 
child. When it is born, has it conscious life ? 
When does consciousness begin in a child? 
And what is it when it moves in its mother's 
womb ? To me life is a ceaseless liberation 
of the ' I ' of the spirit. Recently N. N. 
came to me and asked me whether I believe 
in a future life? But to me there is a contra- 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 83 

diction contained in the question. What does 
■ future life ' mean ? One may believe in life, 
but for eternal life our conception ' future ' is 
quite inapplicable. 

" But if we speak of life as we can realize it, 
as life after our present life, then it seems to me 
that it can be conceived only in two possible 
forms : either as a fusion with the eternal spiritual 
principle, with God, or as a continuation, in a 
different form, of the same process of liberation 
of the spiritual ' I ' from what is called matter. 

" It may be accidental, but it is remarkable 
that Christ said to the Pharisees : ' Before 
Abraham was, I am.' " 

I came into the dining-room while Tolstoi 
was talking with K. A. Mikhailov about art : 

" Among the sensations experienced by our 
senses of touch, sight, hearing, etc., there are 
some which are unpleasant and painful — for 
instance, a violent knock, a deafening noise, a 
bitter taste, etc. Now modern art often works 
upon us not so much by means of its content, as 
by irritating our organs of sensation, painfully. 
As regards taste, an unhealthy taste needs 
mustard, whilst it produces an unpleasant im- 
pression upon a pure taste. So it is in the arts. 
It is necessary to draw a dividing line and to find 



84 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

where that artistic mustard begins, and I think 
it is a problem of enormous importance. In 
painting, it seems to me, it is particularly difficult 
to draw that line." 

Tolstoi said to Count Yashvil : 

" I have been learning all my life and do not 
cease to learn, and this is what I have noticed : 
learning is only fruitful when it corresponds to 
one's needs. Otherwise it is useless. I re- 
member I was a Justice of the Peace ; I used 
to take the laws and tried to study them, but I 
could not fix anything in my mind. But when- 
ever for some particular case, I needed certain 
legal knowledge, I always kept it in my mind 
and could use it in practice." 

The conversation turned on our government. 
Count Yashvil began giving instances to prove 
how bad it is in Europe. 

To this Tolstoi replied even with some 
irritation : 

" What right have we to condemn anything 
in the West, when we are still so far behind 
them ? Our government is so abominable that 
we have no right at all to condemn any one. 
We are without the possibility of satisfying the 
most elementary needs of every man : to read, 
write, think what and how one wishes." 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 85 

Tolstoi was now writing Hadji-Murat, and he 
said : 

" I remember how a long time ago some 
one gave me a travelling candlestick for a present. 
When I showed the candlestick to our Yasnaya 
Polyana carpenter, he looked at it, looked again, 
and then sighed and said : l It is crude stuff ! ' 
The same applies to my present work : it is 
crude stuff ! " 

Yasnaya Polyana, August 50th. I have been 
here now for three days, Tolstoi talked with 
Ilya Lvovich and some one else about farming 
and about the new machine called " The Planet." 

Tolstoi said : 

" It is surprising how few technical inventions 
and improvements have been made in agriculture, 
compared with what has been done in industry." 

Afterwards Tolstoi said : 

" Ruskin says how much more valuable human 
lives are than any improvements and mechanical 
progress." 

Then Tolstoi added : 

" It is difficult to argue with Ruskin : he by 
himself has more understanding than the whole 
House of Commons." 

Tolstoi went for a walk, and I fetched him his 



86 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

overcoat. I met him on the road. We walked 
home together and walked through the fields. 
Tolstoi looked at the bad harvest and said : 
" My farmer's eye is exasperated : God alone 
knows how they sowed ! " 

When we reached the boundary of the 
Yasnaya Polyana forest, we heard the loud voices 
of children, and soon we saw a motley crowd of 
village boys discussing something. They noticed 
Tolstoi and began urging one another to go up 
to him — then they felt shy and hid themselves. 
Tolstoi became interested in them and beckoned 
to them. They began to approach, at first 
timidly and one by one, but gradually all came 
together. I particularly remember one of them 
dressed in grey calico striped trousers, in a 
ragged cap and shirt, with huge heavy boots, 
probably belonging to his father. 

Tolstoi showed them his camp stool, which 
was a great success. He asked them what they 
were doing there. It appeared they had been 
picking pears and the watchman ran after them. 
Tolstoi walked with them. On the way he 
enquired about their parents. One boy turned 
out to be the son of Taras Fokanich. 
Tolstoi said to me : 

" He was one of my very best pupils. What 
a happy time that was I How I loved that 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 87 

work ! And, above all, there was nobody in 
my way. Now my fame is always in my way : 
whatever I do, it is all talked about. But at 
that time nobody knew or interfered, neither 
strangers nor my family — though, there was no 
family then." 

When we reached the spot Tolstoi told the 
children to gather the pears. They climbed the 
trees, some knocking down the pears, others 
shaking them down, others again picking them 
up. There was a hubbub, a happy noise of 
children ; and the figure of the good old Tolstoi 
lovingly protecting the children from the attack 
of the watchman moved one to tears. Then two 
or three peasants came to ask his advice on some 
legal point. 

Tolstoi, Nikitin, and I talked of Dostoevsky. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Certain characters of his are, if you like, 
decadent, but how significant it all is ! " 

Tolstoi mentioned Kirilov in The Possessed, 
and said : 

" Dostoevsky was seeking for a belief, and, 
when he described profoundly sceptical char- 
acters, he described his own unbelief." 

Of Dostoevsky's attitude to " Liberalism " 
Tolstoi observed : 



88 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

" Dostoevsky, who suffered in person from 
the Government, was revolted by the banality of 
Liberalism." 

Tolstoi said : 

" During the sixty years of my conscious life 
a great change has come over us in Russia — I 
am speaking of the so-called educated society — 
with regard to religious questions : religious 
convictions were differentiated ; it is a bad word, 
but I don't know how to express it differently . 
In my youth there were three, or rather four, 
categories into which society in this respect 
could be divided. The first was a very^ small 
group of very religious people, who had been 
freemasons previously, or sometimes monks. 
The second, about 70 per cent of the whole, 
consisted of people who from habit observed 
church rituals, but in their souls were perfectly 
indifferent to religious problems. The third 
group consisted of unbelievers who observed the 
conventions in cases of necessity ; and, finally, 
there were the Voltairians, unbelievers who 
openly and courageously expressed their un- 
belief. The latter were few in number — about 
2 or 3 per cent. Now one has no idea whom 
one is going to meet. One finds the most 
contrary convictions existing side by side. Re- 
cently there have appeared the latest decadents 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 89 

of orthodoxy, the orthodox churchmen like 
Merezhkovsky and Rosanov. 

" Many people were attracted to orthodoxy 
through Khomyakov's definition of the Orthodox 
Church, as a congregation of people united by 
love. What could be better than that? But 
the point is that it is merely the arbitrary substitu- 
tion of one conception for another. Why is the 
Orthodox Church such a congregation of love- 
united people ? It is the contrary rather." 



1903 

March list. Last week I went for a day to 
Yasnaya Polyana. I found Tolstoi well and 
cheerful. 

Tolstoi is always much interested in the 
question of man's spiritual state during sleep. 

He told me this time : 

" In a dream one cries, or is happy or excited, 
and, when one wakes up and remembers the 
dream, one does not understand what made one 
cry or be happy or excited. I explain it to 
myself in this way : Apart from the happiness, 
excitement, or bitterness which are caused by 
definite events, there are also states of happiness, 
excitement, ecstasy, and grief. In such states an 
insignificant event is often sufficient to throw us 
into ecstasy, excitement, etc. In a dream, when 
one's consciousness does not act so consistently 
and logically, this state is expressed by the corre- 
sponding sensation which has often no external 

cause. For instance, in a dream one often feels 

90 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 91 

utterly ashamed, and when one wakes up and 
sees that one's trousers are quietly hanging over 
a chair, one feels an extraordinary joy. That is 
why I so much love ' Popov's Dream.' x It gives 
a wonderful account of that sensation of shame 
in a dream, and, besides, all the characters are 
magnificently described. In spite of its comic 
nature, it is a real work of art." 

June 1st. I returned from Yasnaya Poly ana, 
where I spent a day. Tolstoi is planning a work 
of a philosophical nature, which he is greatly 
excited about at present. Speaking of it, Tolstoi 
said to me : 

" Everything in the world is alive. Every- 
thing that seems to us dead seems so only because 
it is either too large or, on the contrary, too 
small. We do not see microbes, and heavenly 
bodies seem dead to us, for the same reason 
that we seem dead to an ant. The earth is un- 
doubtedly alive, and a stone on the earth is the 
same as a nail on a finger. The materialists 
make matter the basis of life. All these theories 
of the origin of species, of protoplasm, of atoms, 
are all of value in so far as they help us to know 
the laws governing the visible world. But it 
must not be forgotten that all these, including 

1 A comic poem by Count Alexey K. Tolstoi. 



92 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

ether, are working hypotheses, and nothing else. 
Astronomers in their calculations assume that 
the earth is a motionless body, and only after- 
wards correct the mistake. Materialists too 
make false premises, but they do not observe 
the fact that this is so, but let them pass as basic 
truths. 

" True life exists where the living being is 
conscious of itself as an indivisible c I,' in whom 
all impressions, feelings, etc., become one. So 
long as the c I ' struggles, as nearly the whole 
animal world does, merely to crush the other 
creatures known to him, in order to attain his 
own temporary advantage, true spiritual life 
which is without time and space remains un- 
expressed and imprisoned. True spiritual life is 
liberated when a man neither rejoices in his own 
happiness, nor suffers from his own suffering, 
but suffers and rejoices with the worries and 
pleasures of others and is fused with them into 
a common life. 

" Of the life to come, although of course the 
words ' to come ' are inappropriate here, of life 
beyond our physical being, it is impossible to 
have knowledge. We can imagine two forms 
only : either a new form of the individual life, 
or a fusion of personal life in the life of the whole. 
The former seems to us more comprehensible 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 93 

and more likely, since we only know our in- 
dividual life and we can more easily accept the 
idea of the same life in a different form." 

July 14th. In the beginning of July my wife 
and I spent two days in Yasnaya Polyana. 

On the occasion of Mme. Kolokoltsev's * 
suicide Tolstoi said to me : "I can't understand 
why people look upon suicide as a crime. It 
seems to me to be man's right. It gives a man 
the chance of dying when he no longer wishes | 
to live. The Stoics thought like that." 

As Mme. Kolokoltsev was insane, the con- 
versation turned on insanity. I said, as I had 
done previously, that the spiritual life of the 
so-called insane remains unchanged. All that 
happens is that a mad person cannot make his 
personality felt. Tolstoi agreed with me. 

Next day he said to me : 

" Yesterday's conversation on insanity was 
of great interest to me. I have been thinking a 
great deal about it. There are two conscious- 

1 Mme. Kolokoltsev was the wife of the landowner N. A. 
Kolokoltsev. She suffered from nervous disorder and made several 
attempts at suicide. In spite of constant observation, she managed 
one night to make the blanket on the bed into a figure, and thus 
deceived her husband. She went into his study, opened the drawer 
of his table with a skeleton key, took out his revolver and shot herself. 
She was an elderly woman, the mother of two grown-up daughters. 



94 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

nesses in us : one — the animal ; the other — the 
spiritual. The spiritual is not always shown in 
us, but it is this that makes our true spiritual 
life, which is not subject to time. I do not know 
how it is with you who are comparatively young, 
but with me there are times in my long life 
which are clearly preserved in my memory, and 
other times which have completely disappeared, 
they no longer exist. The moments which 
remain are most frequently the moments when 
the spirit in me awoke. It often happens at a 
time when one has done something wrong, and 
suddenly one wakes up, realizes that it is bad, 
and feels the spirit in one with special force. 
Spiritual life is a recollection. A recollection 
is not the past, it is always the present. It is 
our spirit, which shows itself more or less clearly, 
that contains the progress of man's temporary 
existence. There can be no progress for the 
spirit, for it is not in time. What the life in 
time is for, we do not know ; it is only a transi- 
tory phenomenon. Speaking metaphorically, I 
see this manifestation of the spirit in us as the 
breathing of God. 

" There is a beautiful story about the unreality 
of time in The Arabian Nights. Some one was 
put into a bath ; he dipped his head in the water 
and saw a long history with most complicated 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 95 

adventures ; and then when he raised his head 
from the water, it turned out that he had only 
dipped his head in once ! " 

Tolstoi was talking about Fedorov and Peter- 
son, particularly about Fedorov : 

" They belonged to the sect which believes 
in the resurrection of the dead here on earth. 
Their idea is that people must try to resurrect 
all those who have died in the past. They believe 
that by hard work for centuries mankind will 
achieve it. For this purpose one must study all 
things of antiquity and restore them. Fedorov 
was librarian to the Rumyantsev Museum and was 
a passionate collector of all old things : portraits, 
objects, etc. Mankind must cease to multiply 
and everything will be resurrected. That is 
their ideal. It turns out that Vladimir Solovev 
and Dostoevsky to some extent — there is a 
letter to this effect — believed in this idea. 

" Fedorov, I think, is still alive. He must be 
over eighty. All his life he has lived as an 
ascetic. When I once visited him in the spring 
and saw his thin overcoat, I asked him : ' Do 
you wear a thin overcoat already ? ' and he 
replied : ' Christ said, if you have two cloaks, 
give them to him who has none, and I have two 
overcoats.' And after that he always wore only 



96 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

a thin coat. He received a very small salary, 
ate very, very little, slept almost on the bare 
boards, helped the poor, and denied himself 
everything. He wrote a great deal, but his 
works remain in manuscript : his disciples have 
no money to publish them, and no publisher can 
be found to publish them." 

There was a plague of poisonous flies at 
Yasnaya Polyana this summer which made one's 
face swell when they bit one. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Once, when I was younger, I wanted to 
write a story about a young man who stayed in 
the summer at a friend's house where there was 
a young girl. The very first day they fell in 
love and raved about each other. At night, 
when he was asleep, a fly bit his lip, and half 
his face swelled up. His lip and cheek were 
swollen, and his face looked idiotic. When the 
girl saw him in the morning their love at once 
came to an end. There were no more illusions : 
she noticed a number of faults in him which 
she had not noticed at all the day before." 

The conversation was about Father Gregory 
Petrov. 1 

1 G. S. Petrov, a publicist and politician who started his career 
as a preacher of the Church and then resigned his priesthood, 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 97 

Tolstoi said of him : 

" As was the case with Ambrosii of the Optino 
Monastery, he is becoming the slave of his 
popularity. Generally speaking, fame, popu- 
larity, is a dangerous thing. It is also harmful 
because it prevents one from looking upon 
people simply, in a Christian way. Now, for 
instance, I find Gorky very pleasant as a man, 
and yet I can't behave to him with perfect 
sincerity. His popularity prevents me from 
doing so. It is as if he were not in his right 
place. To him, too, his popularity is dangerous. 
His long novels are worse than his short stories, 
his plays are worse than his novels, and his 
addresses to the public are simply revolting. 

" Yet as some one said : if my work is abused 
by every one, it means that there is something 
in it. If all praise it, it means that it is bad ; but 
if some praise it very much, and others dislike 
it very much, then it is first-rate. According 
to this theory Gorky's works are first-rate. 
Well, it may be so." . . . 

A blind man came to Tolstoi, and Tolstoi 
was very much interested in him. The blind 
man was trying to get into a school for the blind, 
so as to complete his education, and Tolstoi 
wanted to help him. The blind man intended 
to give an account of his life. After lunch we 

G 



98 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

were going for a walk. Tolstoi was talking to 
the blind man. Then he took him to the kitchen 
to give him some food, and said good-bye to him. 

The blind man said to him : 

" I should like to go on talking to you." 

Tolstoi replied : 

" Later, perhaps, I will talk to you again." 

We went for a walk. But before reaching 
the gate Tolstoi said that he had changed his 
mind and would return home. 

Sophie Andreevna observed : 

" He probably regrets having left the blind 
man." 

And it was true. We walked for a long time, 
and when we got back Tolstoi was still sitting 
with the blind man. 

Tolstoi said to me later : 

" The blind man told me many legends. One 
of them I never heard before : 

" ' Once upon a time Christ and Peter the 
Apostle walked in the country and saw an old 
peasant making a fence out of reeds. Christ 
asked him : " Why, father, are you making such 
a weak fence of reeds ? " and the peasant replied : 
" I am old, it will last my lifetime." After that 
God saw to it that people should not know 
their age.' He also told me another legend, 
which I had heard before but in a different version: 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 99 

" c A just old man once lived in the woods. 
And people came to him and said : " Why do 
you never go to church ? " The old man 
listened to them and went with them. But 
while they took a boat to cross the river, the 
old man walked upon the water. They arrived 
and went into the church, but inside the church 
the devils stretched a skin on the floor and 
wrote down the names of the sinners on it. 
The old man looked and looked at this, then 
called the devils bad names, and they wrote his 
name down. On returning home he was unable 
to walk upon the water, but had to take the 
boat.' " 

Tolstoi said : 

" It is time for me to die, and I have a whole 
mass of subjects, and even a new one to-day. I 
have a whole long list of them." . . . 

Tolstoi is going to expound in an artistic 
form Buddha's teaching, " Ta Twam Asi," the 
meaning of which is that in every man and his 
actions one can always recognize oneself. 

Tolstoi recalled the following : 

" When I was taken for the first time to a 
box in the Grand Theatre as a young child I 
saw nothing : I did not know that it was 
necessary to look at the stage sideways, and I 



ioo TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

looked straight in front of me at the opposite 
boxes." 



August nth. I spent the 7th and 8th in 
Yasnaya Polyana. 

M. S. Sukhotin was talking about Count 
Bludov. Tolstoi said : 

" His was a very interesting house where 
authors and the most interesting men of their 
time used to meet. I remember that I read there 
for the first time my Two Hussars. Bludov was 
once intimate with the Decembrists and sym- 
pathized in his soul with every progressive move- 
ment. And he kept on serving under Nicolas I." 

Mikhail Sergeevich Sukhotin asked whether 
Bludov was a Russian, and why was he a Count ? 

Tolstoi said : 

" The Bludovs were a purely Russian family, 
to whom the title of Count was granted. I 
remember, when I gathered the peasants to read 
to them the Ukase of their liberation, at the 
bottom were the names of the signatories and 
it finished with the words : Countersigned by 
Count Bludov. An elderly peasant, Eremey, 
shook his head all the while and said : ' That 
Blud, he must be a brainy fellow ! ' Evidently 
he took it to mean that Bludov was at the head 
of the whole affair." 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 101 

The conversation was about medicine. Tol- 
stoi said : 

" Medicine cannot possibly be called an ' ex- 
perimental ' science, for in medicine experiment 
in the strict sense is impossible. With experi- 
ments in chemistry a repetition of the more or 
less same conditions is possible, and so there 
can be approximately an exact conclusion as to 
the results. But in medicine there is no exact 
experiment nor can there be, for it is never 
possible to repeat the conditions that existed 
previously ; if only because the individuality of 
the patient changes, and nearly, if not quite, 
everything changes in sympathy with that." 

Tolstoi related this episode from his child- 
hood : 

" We had a distant relation — an old woman 
Yakovlev. She lived in her own house in the 
Staro-Konyushenna Street in Moscow. She was 
a great miser, and, when she went to the country 
in the summer, she sent her children ahead in 
the luggage van. Once, when I was quite a 
small child, old Yakovlev came to pay us a 
visit. She sat with the grown-up people, and 
my brother Nikolenka got a box, put dolls into 
it, and began dragging it across the rooms. 
When he dragged it into the room where old 



ioz TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Yakovlev sat, she asked him : ' Nicolas, what have 
you got there? ' and he replied, ' It is old Yakovlev 
going into the country, and her children are 
being sent ahead in the luggage van.' "... 

During the two days (the 6th and 7th August) 
of my stay in Yasnaya, Tolstoi wrote a perfectly 
new and very powerful story called Father and 
Daughter, 1 which, he said, " will stay as it is for 
the time being." Tolstoi himself seems to be 
very well pleased with the story, and he thinks 
he may not have to alter it. 

Tolstoi recalled the folk-story of " Vanka 
Kliushnik," who asked before his execution to 
be allowed to sing a song ; and Tolstoi was in 
raptures over the beauty of it. 

Tolstoi is much amused because he is riding 
a young horse and training it. He is a great 
connoisseur of horses ; he loves them and is a 
perfect horseman. He trains his horse to various 
paces. He showed me and Ilya Vasilevich how 
the horse started to gallop with the right leg. 
At the beginning of the ride I asked Tolstoi how 
to train a horse to start with this or that leg. 
Tolstoi explained to me how it was done, and 
then observed : 

1 Called in its final version, After the Ball. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 103 

" Once a horse leads off with a certain leg, it 
wants to start with the same leg next time. In 
a man's life, too, custom plays an enormous 
part. Once a certain habit is formed, a man 
unconsciously tries to act in accordance with it. 
It is very seldom that people act in accordance 
with reason, and only very remarkable people 
do so ; usually people live and act by habit. 
How otherwise could it be possible that moral 
truths, announced so long ago by the great 
thinkers and admitted by most people, so rarely 
guide their actions ? Very few people overcome 
the habits of animal life and oppose them by 
the convictions of reason." 

When later we drove past a beautiful wood 
Tolstoi said : 

" Once upon a time this forest belonged to 
Dolin-Ivansky. He was about to sell it and I 
wanted to buy it, but for some reason I bargained, 
although the price was reasonable. We did not 
settle the business. When I came home and 
thought it over, I saw that the price was reason- 
able and the forest good, and I sent the steward 
to say that I was ready to buy it. But when the 
steward arrived, the forest was already sold. 
For a long time afterwards I could not remember 
without annoyance that I had let that forest slip 
through my hands." 



io4 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Then we drove by the forest called " Limonov 
Woods." It is a young forest planted by 
Tolstoi. He had not been there for a long time 
and was surprised to see how everything had 
flourished and grown up. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Yes, it is a queer sense, that of ownership : 
here, too, one finds the same habit. When one 
analyses it in one's own mind, the feeling dis- 
appears ; but instinctively one always sees in 
oneself a particular interest in what was or is 
one's property, although one considers owner- 
ship harmful and unnecessary." 

Speaking later of the present political events 
Tolstoi said : 

" The same is true also with regard to patriot- 
ism : unconsciously one's sympathies are on the 
side of Russia and her fortunes, and one catches 
oneself at it. But it is clear that with these 
internal and foreign troubles one fine day all 
of a sudden Russia may fall to pieces. As the 
saying goes : sic transit gloria mundi. Now it is 
an enormous and powerful state, and suddenly 
everything may go to pieces ! " 

Tolstoi drew my attention to the fact that the 
road was beautifully lit up by the rays of the 
sun coming through the branches of the trees. 
He recalled that Turgenev in Virgin Soil has 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 105 

described how Sipyagin met Mariana and Nezh- 
danov lit up by such rays. He asked me if I 
remembered the passage. I did not remember 
it and said : 

" How do you remember it, Tolstoi ? " 

Tolstoi laughed and said : 

" But you remember in your music, and so we 
writers remember things in our art." 

Tolstoi said about Virgin Soil that he did not 
share the general indifference towards that novel 
and considered it very successful. Among other 
things, he thought the new type of Sipyagin 
successful and observed at the right time. 

On this occasion Tolstoi said : 

" But for the most part I object to the trick 
of guessing at modern types and phenomena. 
The other day the painter K. was here. I told 
him a great deal about his work which must be 
unpleasant to him. He is always occupied with 
these modern themes. I said to him that one 
ought never to paint what is talked about in 
the newspapers. Besides, he simply can't make 
a picture intelligible, clear. In his works you 
can't make out what he wants to represent. 
How inferior he is to Orlov x in this respect ! " 

1 N. V. Orlov, a painter from the people, of whose pictures 
Tolstoi was very fond. Reproductions of most of his paintings hang 
in Tolstoi's room. 



106 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

I. V. Denisenko read aloud the chapters about 
Nicolas from Hadji-Murat. 

Tolstoi sat in his room, but he wanted to 
come where we were all sitting. 

He came in several times and said : 

" It is not interesting ; let it be ! " 

At last he even said with irritation : 

" It is rubbish ! " 

Then M. S. Sukhotin asked him : 

" Why did you write it, then, Leo Nickolae- 
vich ? " . 

Tolstoi replied : 

" But it is not finished yet. You came into 
my kitchen, and no wonder it stinks with the 
smell of cooking." 

Tolstoi explained why he had made up his 
mind never to write to the papers to deny what 
was said about him. 

" When I stayed with Turgenev in Petersburg, 
Mefodii Katkov x arrived from Moscow, and, 
on behalf of his brother, asked Turgenev and 
myself to let him have something for his RMss^ii 
Vestnikj I promised nothing, but Turgenev with 
his characteristic kindness said, rather vaguely, 
that he might perhaps let him have something. 

" Soon after this a group of writers in Peters- 
burg, Nekrasov, Turgenev, myself, Panaev, 

1 The brother of the well-known editor M. N. Katkov. 




TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 107 

Druzhinin, Grigorovich, formed ourselves into 
a group and decided to publish only in the 
Sovremenniks When Katkov heard this, he ac- 
cused Turgenev in print of breaking his promise. 
Then I wrote a letter to Katkov, and asked him 
to publish it, in which I, as a witness, refuted 
Katkov's statement and proved that Turgenev 
had not promised Katkov anything. 

" At first Katkov did not publish the letter ; 
afterwards he published it, but in such a mutilated 
form that it quite changed its character. After 
that I made a vow to myself that I would never 
make any reply to attacks in the Press." 

The talk turned on our Government. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Do you know, Peter Alexeevich, I want to 
found a society whose members would bind 
themselves not to abuse the Government." 

Sergeenko and others replied that, although 
it was true that people made too much of that 
subject, still, when the Government prevented 
people from living freely or breathing freely, it 
was difficult not to criticize it. 

To this Tolstoi said : 

" It is only necessary to remember that the 
Government, however strong and cruel it may 
be, can never prevent the real, spiritual life of 
man, which alone is of importance. And why 



f^8) TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

wonder that the Government is cruel and 
wicked ? So it must be. Mosquitoes bite, 
worms devour leaves, pigs grout in manure — all 
this suits them and it is not worth while to be 
indignant about it. I remember many years 
ago — my sons are now tall, bearded men, but 
they were then children — I once came into the 
dining-room downstairs in the Khamovniki house 
and saw that a ray of the sun fell across the whole 
room through the windows and made a bright 
spot on the sideboard which stood by the wall 
opposite the window. The ventilator was not 
tight shut and was moved by the wind, and as 
it moved the bright spot slid over the sideboard. 
I went in, showed the children the bright spot, 
and cried out : ' Catch it 1 ' They all threw 
themselves on to the bright spot to catch it, but 
it raced, and it was difficult to catch it. But if 
one of the children succeeded in putting his 
hand on it, the bright spot showed on the top 
of his hand. That is like the spiritual nature of 
man : however you hide it, however much you 
try to suppress it or extinguish it, it will always 
remain the same and unchanged." 
4 About writing Tolstoi said : 

" If you ask some one : ' Can you play the 
violin ? ' and he says : ' I don't know, I have 
not tried, perhaps I can,' you laugh at him. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 109 

Whereas about writing, people always say : ' I 
don't know, I have not tried,' as though one 
had only to try and one would become a writer." 

Tolstoi said about Jews : 

" There are three kinds of Jews. Some are 
.believers, religious, respecting their religion and 
strictly following its teaching. Others are cosmo- 
politan, standing on the highest step of conscious- 
ness ; and finally a third kind, the middle kind, 
almost the biggest class, at any rate of educated 
Jews, are even ashamed of being Jews or hide 
the fact, and at the same time they are hostile 
to other races ; but it is as if they hid their 
hostility behind the skirts of their overcoats. 
As my sympathies are with the first two classes, 
so the third is unsympathetic to me. 

The conversation was about religion. Tolstoi 
said : 

" Rousseau expressed a perfectly true idea 
that the Jewish religion admitted one revelation 
— the past ; the Christian religion two — the past 
and present ; and the Muhammadan three — the 
past, the present, and the future. Historically 
it is undoubtedly a progressive movement. 
Christianity is higher than Judaism, which is 
no longer alive. It is all in the past ; and 



no TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Muhammadanism is higher than Christianity : it 
has not the superstitions, the idolatry. To me 
personally Christianity, to be sure, is above all 
religions, but I speak about Christianity, not as 
the highest religious moral teaching, but as a 
historical fact. And as there is ever much in 
common between the opposite poles, so there 
is here ; both Judaism and Muhammadanism 
keep strictly to monotheism, and there is no 
intoxication in either ; but in the historical 
Christianity of the churches there is polytheism, 
as well as all kinds of ignorance and cruelty. 
Everything is justified and even encouraged." 



1904 

At Christmas Alexandra Lvovna made a Christ- 
mas tree in the lodge to entertain the village 
children. I do not know who made the choice, 
but, as there was not enough room, all the 
children were not admitted. Tolstoi, myself, 
and some one else, I don't remember who, came 
in rather later when the entertainment was at 
its height. At the door of the lodge stood the 
children who could not be admitted. When 
they saw us, the mothers of the children began 
asking Tolstoi to take their children with him. 
Tolstoi took two or three inside with him. It was 
bright and hot. Inside the burning candles flamed. 
It smelt of burnt branches. We soon came out. 

Tolstoi said with a sigh : 

" How wrong it is 1 Some are inside and the 
others are not allowed in. When our children 
were small, Sophie Andreevna always had a 
Christmas tree, and the village children came to 
it. Once they gave us the scarlet fever, and 



ii2 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

after that they were no longer admitted, except 
a few who were carefully chosen. I remember 
once there was a Christmas tree upstairs. I was 
lying downstairs on the sofa (where the library 
now is), and I was terribly ashamed to think of 
the children crowding outside and not being let 
in. I remember I could not endure it, came out, 
and gave them three roubles, and of course made 
things still worse — they began to dispute and 
quarrel over the division of it, and it was revolt- 
ing, shameful, and painful ! " 

June }th. Yasnaya Polyana. 

On the day of our arrival, May 27th, Tolstoi 
talked at dinner about the Decembrists whom 
he knew after their return from banishment (he 
is again studying that period). 

He spoke of Prince Volkonsky : * 

" His appearance with his long grey hair was 
altogether like that of an Old Testament prophet. 
What a pity I spoke so little to him then, when 
I need him so much now ! He was a wonderful 
old man, the flower of the Petersburg aristocracy 
both by birth and by his position at Court. 
And then in Siberia, after he had already served 
hard labour, and his wife had something like a 

1 Prince S. G. Volkonsky (1788-1865), one of the most famous 
Decembrists, and his wife, nee Raevsky (1 805-1 863). Both left 
remarkable memoirs. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 113 

salon, he worked with the peasants ; all sorts 
of tools for peasants' work were in his room." 

Tolstoi does not believe the story about the 
affair between Poggio and Princess Volkonsky. 

He said : 

" I do not want to believe it : such scandals 
are so often invented and people's memory spoilt. 
Moreover, Poggio loved Volkonsky so much that 
when later (Volkonsky's wife being already dead) 
he felt the approach of death himself, he came to 
Volkonsky to die there." 

Tolstoi went on to say : 

" 1 made Volkonsky's acquaintance in Florence 
at Dolgorukov's, Koko Dolgorukov, the doctor. 
At that time it was rare for an aristocrat to become 
a doctor. It was when Nicolas I. limited the 
number of university students to three hundred, 
and Dolgorukov could not be admitted to any 
other faculty. He was a wonderfully capable 
man : he wrote poems, was a superb musician, 
painted pictures. He was married to (?). When 
I visited them for the first time in Florence, 
this was the scene I found : his wife and the 
well-known Marquis de Rogan were playing an 
extraordinary game : they made a mark on the 
wall and tried, by lifting their feet, to touch the 
mark ; each tried to lift his or her leg higher 
and higher. 

H 



ii 4 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

" There was also present the very gifted 
painter Nikitin. He drew wonderfully in pencil. 
I remember he had an album and drew Volkon- 
sky's portrait in it. He also drew mine. I 
wonder where the album is. If some collector 
were to get hold of it now ! " 

Then at dinner Tolstoi told us two anecdotes 
from his life. The first was how he ate some 
earth-worms (Tolstoi told it because Alexandra 
Lvovna and Ilya Lvovich's children were going 
fishing). Tolstoi said he was carrying the 
worms in one hand, and a loaf of black bread in 
the other. He had finished eating the bread, 
and, thinking of something else, put the worms 
in his mouth and began chewing them, and for 
some time could not think what mess he had 
put in his mouth. 

Tolstoi said : 

" I remember the taste of them as if I were 
eating them now." 

My wife asked him if it was very unpleasant. 

" The taste of earth ; but I don't advise you 
to taste it." 

Some one sneezed and Tolstoi told another 
story. 

" I used to sneeze very loudly ; once at night 
I woke and felt I was going to sneeze immediately, 
and as Sophie Andreevna was going to have a 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 115 

baby, I was afraid to frighten her by sneezing. 
Half asleep I cried out : ' Sonia, I am going to 
sneeze ! * Sophie Andreevna of course woke 
up and was frightened, and I instantly fell asleep 
without having sneezed." 

Tolstoi also talked about Belogolovy's Re- 
miniscences. 1 He seemed to Tolstoi a narrow- 
minded man. Speaking of the terrible im- 
pression made by his description of the diseases 
and deaths of Nekrasov, Turgenev, and Saltikov, 
Tolstoi said : 

" How they dreaded death ! And then there 
were those horrible disgusting details of their 
illnesses, particularly Nekrasov's." 

Last winter my wife and I stayed at Yasnaya 
Polyana, and, when we had to leave, Tolstoi was 
sitting in his room with P. A. Boulanger. We 
came into the room to say good-bye, and probably 
they were talking of Boulanger's family affairs. 

We entered just as Tolstoi was saying : 

"... if people only said more often : c Do 
you remember ? ' People should make it a rule 
that if one person says or does something wrong 
in the heat of a quarrel, or when one is angry, 
the other should say : ' Do you remember ? ' " 

1 N. A. Belogolovy (1834-1895), doctor, author of the well- 
known Reminiscences, in which there is a chapter devoted to Tolstoi 
called " A Meeting with L. N. Tolstoi." 



n6 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Tolstoi noticed my wife and me and said : 

" Now, you young people, you ought to make 
that your rule ! No one can be such a friend 
as one's wife, a real friend. In marriage it is 
either paradise, or simple hell ; there is no 
c purgatory.' " 

Boulanger said that generally it was a case of 
purgatory. 

Tolstoi thought for a time and then said with 
a sigh : 

" Yes, perhaps, unfortunately." . . . 

That same evening, looking at Andrey Lvo- 
vich's little girl, Sonechka, playing on the floor, 
Tolstoi said : 

" Faust speaks of the rare moment of which 
one can say : ' Verweile doch, du bist so schon ! ' 
Now there it is, that moment ! " (Tolstoi 
pointed to the little girl.) " There is a perfectly 
happy, pure, and innocent moment." 

June zoth. Some time ago, in May, Tolstoi 
said : 

" Religions are usually based on one of these 
three principles : on sentiment, reason, or illusion. 
Stoicism is an example of the religion of reason ; 
Mormonism of illusion; Muhammadanism of 
sentiment. I have lately received many letters 
from Muhammadans. I had a letter from Cairo 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 117 

from a representative of the Baptist sect, it is 
an example of the religion of sentiment. I also 
had a letter from India, written by a wonderful 
and very religious man. He writes that true 
Muhammadanism is a perfectly different thing 
from what people usually think it to be. Indeed, 
I know some very religious Moslems. And how 
movingly simple and lofty is their worship ! " 

To-day at sunset we walked in the garden. 
We talked of Gorky and his feeble "Man." 
Tolstoi was saying that to-day on his walk he 
met on the road (he likes to go out on to the 
road, and sit down on a little stone, a milestone, 
and to observe or to speak to the passers-by) a 
man who turned out to be a rather well-educated 
working-man. 

Tolstoi said : 

" His outlook on the world agrees perfectly 
with Gorky's so-called Nietzscheism and the cult 
of the personality. It is evidently the spirit of 
the time. Nietzsche did not say anything new — 
his is now a very popular world-conception." 

Then Tolstoi said : 

" When I was a Justice of the Peace, there 
lived in Krapivna a merchant called Gurev, who 
used to say about young people of education : 
' Well, I look at your students — they are all 



u8 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

scholars, they know everything, only they have 
no invention.' Turgenev, I remember, liked 
this expression very much." 

Recently a party of gypsies camped on the road 
near Yasnaya Polyana. Gypsies often roam 
about Yasnaya Polyana. The party usually stay 
for two or three days, and in the evenings the 
Yasnaya Polyana household comes out to hear 
the gypsy songs and enjoy their dances. 

Tolstoi, looking at the gypsies, became a 
changed man, and involuntarily began to dance 
to their tunes, and to cry out again and again 
approvingly. 

" What a wonderful people ! " 

The old gypsies all know Tolstoi and always 
enter into conversation with him. Tolstoi from 
his youngest days loved and knew the gypsies 
and their peculiar life. 

When we left the house, it was drizzling. 
Soon the rain got worse, and we returned. 

Andrey Lvovich said : 

" Now we have come to the house, the rain 
will stop." 

And, indeed, on our way home the rain 
stopped, and we went back to the gypsies. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Yes, it is always like that : as soon as you 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 119 

turn to go home the rain stops. Something 
like this happens in Moscow too. When you 
have to find some one in a large building and 
ring for the porter, he is never there. But no 
sooner do you go into the yard to make water 
than the porter is sure to catch you. So I advise 
you that if you have to find some one, don't ring 
for the porter, but do the second thing first." 

When Andrey Lvovich was made an aide-de- 
camp, Tolstoi said to him : 

" My only comfort is that you are sure not 
to kill a single Japanese. An aide-de-camp is 
always exposed to great danger, but seldom 
takes part in the fighting. I spent a great deal 
of time on the fourth bastion at Sevastopol when 
I was in the army on the Danube. I was aide-de- 
camp, and I believe I had not to fire even once. 
I remember once on the Danube, near Silistria, 
we were on our side of the river, but there was 
also a battery on the other side, and I was sent 
across with some order. The commander of 
the battery, Schube, on seeing me, thought : 
' Well, there's that little Count, I'll give him a 
lesson ! ' And he took me across the whole 
line under fire, and with deadly slowness on 
purpose. I passed that test well outwardly, but 
my feelings were not pleasant. I also remember 



i2o TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

how one of the highest officers — Kotsebu — 
visited the bastion in Sevastopol, and some one, I 
think it was Novosilzev, wanted to put him to 
the test, and began saying perpetually : e Look, 
Your Excellency, just there at their line,' forcing 
him to put his head out from behind the fortifica- 
tions. He put his head out once or twice, and 
then, realizing what was up, he, as the superior 
officer, began in his turn to order the other man 
to look at the firing, and, after teasing him for 
some time, he said : ' Next time I advise you 
not to doubt the courage of your superiors.' " 

Tolstoi recalled Lichtenberg's x aphorism to 
the effect that mankind will finally perish when 
not a single savage is left. 

Tolstoi added : 

" I first turned to the Japanese, but they have 
already successfully adopted all the bad sides of 
our culture. The Kaffirs are the only hope 
remaining." 

Tolstoi said : 

" I do not remember during any previous 
war such depression and anxiety as are now in 
Russia. I think it is a good sign, a proof that 
a realization of the evil and uselessness and 
absurdity of war is permeating deeper and deeper 

1 G. C. Lichtenberg (i 742-1 799), German physicist, critic, and 
publicist. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 121 

the social consciousness ; so that perhaps the 
time is coming when wars will be impossible — 
nobody will want to go to war. Now Lisanka, 
who always sees the good in things, was telling 
me about a peasant — a porter, I think — who was 
called up and, before going to the front, took 
Off his cross. That is a truly Christian spirit ! 
Although he is not able to resist the general will 
and has to yield to it, yet he clearly realizes that 
it is not God's doing." 

Tolstoi described with horror how a priest 
marched with his cross in his hand in front, of 
the soldiers. 

June zGth. Last week I reached Yasnaya in 
the evening. The Sukhotins were there. During 
tea Misha Sukhotin began to tell Tolstoi that on 
completing his studies at the School of Juris- 
prudence he would like to go to Paris to continue 
his studies ; and he began to argue with Tolstoi. 
I did not hear the beginning of the argument. 
I came in when Tolstoi was saying : 

" * . . Every man is a perfectly individual 
being, who has never existed before and will 
never happen again. It is just the individuality, 
the singularity of him, which is valuable; but 
school tries to efface all this and to make man 
after its own pattern. The pupils of the Tula 



122 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

secondary school came to me lately and asked 
what they should do. I said to them : above 
all, try to forget everything you have been 
taught." 

Tolstoi thinks the Russian University in Paris 
perfectly useless and good-for-nothing. He 
said : 

" The best educational institution that I know- 
is the Kensington Museum in London. There 
is a large public library where many people 
work, and they have professors of various special 
subjects. Every one who works, if he has a 
question to ask, gives notice of it, and, when 
several such questions have accumulated, the 
professor issues a notice to say that he will 
lecture on such and such subjects, and those 
who wish may come and hear him. Such an 
arrangement is most in keeping with the true 
object of teaching — to answer the questions 
which arise in the minds of the students. But 
in every other institution, lectures which are of 
no use to the student are read by professors who 
are for the most part entirely without gift. None 
of these lecturers would dare to publish their 
lectures. Goethe said : 

" ' When I speak it turns out better than when 
I think ; I write better than I speak ; and what I 
publish is better than what I write.' He meant 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI (wj 

by this that what a man publishes is usually the 
cream of his thought, the thing he most believes 
in. Instead of going to Paris to attend lectures, 
go to the public library, and you won't come out 
for twenty years, if you really wish to learn. 
One ought not to talk about oneself, but I must 
say this : when I was at the University in Kazan 
I did practically nothing the first year. The 
second year I began to work. There was a 
Professor Mayer who took an interest in me 
and gave me, as a subject, to compare the code 
of Catherine the Great with Montesquieu's 
Esprit des lois. And, I remember, I became 
infatuated with the work. I went into the 
country and began to read Montesquieu ; this 
reading opened up endless horizons ; I began 
reading Rousseau, and left the University for the 
simple reason that I wanted to work; for at 
the University I should have to occupy myself 
with subjects that did not interest me and were 
of no use to me." 

Sergey Lvovich asked Tolstoi why he did not 
go in for his examinations at Petersburg Uni- 
versity. 

Tolstoi said : 

" I began to work hard, passed two examina- 
tions, was awarded two marks of distinction, 
but then it was spring ; it drew me to the 



i2 4 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

country ; well, I gave it up and went away." 
. . . Speaking of the good effects upon men of 
having received no education, Tolstoi said : 

" I know two musicians who never went to 
school, and yet they are very well-educated men, 
who, whatever subject you talk about, know it 
thoroughly, — G. and Sergey Ivanovich Taneev. 

I played. Then Tolstoi said : 

" Anton Rubinstein told me that, if he is 
moved himself by what he is playing, he ceases 
to move his audience. This shows that the 
creation of a work of art is only possible when 
the emotion has settled in the artist's mind." 

I do not remember how the conversation now 
got upon writing, but Tolstoi said : 

" Usually when I begin a new book I am very 
pleased with it myself and work with great 
interest. But as the book work goes on, I 
become more and more bored, and often in re- 
writing it I omit things, substitute others, not 
because the new idea is better, but because I get 
tired of the old. Often I strike out what is 
vivid and replace it by something dull." 

The conversation turned upon Hertzen. Tol- 
stoi read aloud extracts from his book (a collection 
of articles published in the Kolokpl). Tolstoi is 
extremely fond of Hertzen and values him very 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 125 

highly. He spoke of Hertzen's unhappy private 
life and of the suffering he went through when 
the representatives (particularly the younger re- 
presentatives) of the party with whom he had 
worked throughout his life deserted him and 
ceased to understand him. 

Tolstoi saw Hertzen in London, when Hertzen 
lived with Mme. Tuchkov-Ogarev. 

Biryukov asked Tolstoi (for the biography 
of Tolstoi which he is writing) about his con- 
versation with Hertzen which Mme. Ogarev 
refers to in her Reminiscences. 

Tolstoi said that he remembered a great many 
of their talks, but not that particular one. And 
he added : 

" Perhaps she merely invented the conversa- 
tion, as the authors of memoirs and reminiscences 
so often do." 

On the whole, Tolstoi has not a high opinion 
of Mme. Ogarev, although he says he knows her 
but little. 

He said : 

" I received a letter from her in which she, 
as though to justify herself, gives an account 
of the affair with the peasants which had lately 
taken place on her estate. There were some 
fields there which the peasants had had the use 
of from time immemorial. The fields belonged 



126 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 



legally to the landowner. A bailiff was engaged, 
a Pole called Stanislavski, and he drove the 
peasants' cattle from the fields on to the estate. 
The peasants collected with thick sticks in their 
hands to free their cattle, determined not to give 
up the use of the fields. They arrived at the 
Manor and began by demanding their cattle. 
Finally, Stanislavski fired, and killed or wounded, 
I do not remember which, some one in the crowd. 
The crowd became furious and threw them- 
selves on Stanislavski, who tried to save himself 
by flight, but he was overtaken on a moor and 
was murdered in a most brutal way. As a 
result of the affair, a military court was held and 
two or three peasants were hanged." 

Tolstoi had known of this before he got her 
letter, and was horrified at the incredible verdict. 

Afterwards Tolstoi said : 

" Lately I got a letter from a lady asking me 
why, strictly speaking, it is a crime to kill. 
Anyhow man must die sooner or later — is it 
not all the same ? I replied that since every 
man represents a unique type, which never 
occurs again, we have and can have no absolute 
knowledge of why he is needed for the life of 
all. In life everything is very carefully arranged, 
and we do not know the reason why just this 
individual should be alive, and it is for this 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 127 

reason that the destruction of this unique creature 
appears so terrible." 

Of being afraid in battle, Tolstoi said : 

" It is impossible not to be afraid. Every- 
one is afraid, but tries to conceal it. When 
wounded have to be carried off the battlefield, 
so many men volunteer for the work that the 
officers have to use great force to keep the 
soldiers back, since every one wants, even for a 
time, to get out of fire." 

Of himself Tolstoi said that he was never so 
much afraid as upon the night before the attack 
on Silistria, which after all did not take place. 

Then Tolstoi said : 

6 The Japanese are less afraid, for they 
evidently value life much less than Europeans 
do. The absence of the fear of death goes to 
extreme lengths with some people. For instance, 
if a Chukcha wants to spite his enemy, he comes 
to his hut and kills himself near it, knowing 
that his enemy will then have much trouble with 
legal proceedings. 

July %th. Tolstoi said with regard to his 
article about war, " Bethink Yourselves " : 

"It is painful to feel that my words go un- 
heeded. If one is dealing with the so-called 
men of science who regard war, apart from its 



128 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

moral significance, as one of the stages in the 
evolution of human relations, then, at any rate, 
one knows where one is. But what is one to 
do and how is one to speak to people who 
evidently cannot understand my point of view ? 
Whatever I say glides off them. They are, as 
it were, greased with a sort of oil, so that every- 
thing runs off them, like water, without wetting 
them." 

After this Tolstoi said that, when he wrote 
to Nicolas II. (from the Crimea, in the winter 
of 1 901-1902), he was told that Nicolas II. " read 
his letter with pleasure." He also recollected 
Hertzen's letters to Alexander II. 

Tolstoi wrote to Nicolas II. about the land 
question. 

With reference to the attitude in Government 
circles to that question Tolstoi said : 

" I can't possibly put myself at their point 
of view. I remember when I was young and 
an officer I was never bothered by these ques- 
tions ; somehow they did not arise in me. But 
I cannot imagine that I should pass by such a 
problem, if I happened to come across it. I 
remember two such cases in my life. One, 
when Vasili Ivanovich Alexeev, 1 when I was at 
the height of my career as a landlord, expressed 

1 V. I. Alexeev, at that time tutor of Tolstoi's son Ilya. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 129 

to me for the first time the idea that the owner- 
ship of land is evil. I remember how much I 
was struck by the idea, and how at once perfectly- 
new horizons opened before me. So it also 
happened when some one, I don't remember 
who it was, I think a Frenchman, told me that 
prostitution was an abnormal thing, and not 
only useless, but really harmful to mankind. 
Schopenhauer, for instance, says that it is only 
owing to prostitution that family relations are 
still preserved in the community. I had not 
previously thought about it, but, on hearing the 
Frenchman speak, I at once felt the truth of what 
he said and could no longer go back. I can 
imagine that one's thoughts may not tend in a 
certain direction ; one may be ignorant of some 
point of view. But I cannot understand that 
incapacity and unwillingness to learn." 

July yth. Speaking of Lichtenberg's aphor- 
isms Tolstoi said : 

" Aphorisms are perhaps the best way of 
expounding philosophical judgments. For in- 
stance, Schopenhauer's aphorisms (Parerga and 
Paralipomena) express his conception of the 
world much more clearly than The World as 
Will and Imagination. A philosopher, in ex- 
plaining a whole complicated system, sometimes 

1 



i 3 o TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

involuntarily ceases to be honest. He becomes 
the slave of his system, for the symmetry of 
which he is often prepared to sacrifice the truth." 
Speaking of Lichtenberg's beautiful German 
style, Tolstoi said : 
/ " Every literary language reaches its highest 

point and then begins to decline. In the German 
language that time was at the end of the eighteenth 
and the first half of the nineteenth century ; it 
was the same with the French language. Now 
both in Germany and France the language has 
become utterly spoilt. In Russia we are now 
finding ourselves on the border-line. The 
Russian language has quite lately reached its 
apex and now it begins to decay." 

Tolstoi praised Chekhov's language very 
highly for its simplicity, compactness, and ex- 
pressiveness. Gorky's language he disapproves 
of, thinking it artificial and rhetorical. 

When Nicolas II. appeared in many places to 
bless the troops going to the Japanese war with 
icons, Tolstoi said : 

" If A, the ruler of a huge country, takes a 
board, B, in his hand and kisses it in the presence 
of crowds of many thousands of kneeling troops 
and then waves the board over the heads of 
those who stand in front of him, and does this 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 131 

all over the country, what except trash can come 
from such a country ? This has never happened 
before. In your own room you may do whatever 
you like. One man likes to wash himself with 
wine or eau-de-Cologne, another kisses icons if 
he likes, but such idolatry on a large scale in 
the face of all and such deception of the crowd 
are simply incredible ! " . . . 

During the war Tolstoi always said that in 
spite of his attitude to war and to patriotism 
generally, he felt in the depth of his soul an 
instinctive sorrow at Russian defeats. 

I heard him say this in the presence of 
G., B., and some others. All of them energetic- 
ally denied in themselves any such instinctive 
" patriotic bias." It seems to me that they were 
simply afraid of admitting it even to themselves. 

October zznd. Mechnikov sent Tolstoi his 
book (Studies on the Nature of Man) in French. 
Tolstoi read it through. 

To-day he said to me : 

" I got much interesting information out of 
the book, for Mechnikov is undoubtedly a great 
scientist. But the self-satisfied narrowness with 
which he is convinced that he has solved almost 
all problems that agitate man is surprising in 
him. He is so sure that man's happiness consists 



i 3 2 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

in a state of animal contentment that he calls old 
age an evil (because of its limited capacity of 
physical enjoyment), and does not even under- 
stand that there are men who think and feel 
precisely the opposite. But I value my old age 
and would not exchange it for any earthly 
blessings." 

The conversation turned on the tendency of 
women to crowd to universities. 

Tolstoi said smilingly : 

" If I were a Minister of Education, I should 
issue a Ukase by which all women were obliged 
to enter universities and would be deprived of 
the right to marry and have children. For the 
infringement of this law the guilty would be 
liable to a heavy fine. Then all of them would 
be sure to marry ! " 

Tolstoi spoke on August 28th with exaspera- 
tion about writing as a profession. I have 
rarely seen him so agitated : 

He said : 

" One ought only to write when one leaves 
a piece of one's flesh in the ink-pot each time 
one dips one's pen." 



i9°5 

January ^th. During the Christmas holidays 
Misha Sukhotin read Professor Korkunov's book 
on Russian State Law. Tolstoi took it and began 
to read it. He sat nearly the whole evening in 
his room, and came out in a state of agitation 
and disturbance saying : " It gave me palpitation 
of the heart to read that ! In this, as in almost 
all legal books which deal with c rights ' of 
different kinds, it talks of anything and everything 
except the truth of the matter. It deals with 
the ' subject ' and ■ object ' of right — I never 
could make out what precisely those words and 
others of the same sort mean, nor could I ever 
get any one to explain them to me. But when- 
ever the argument approaches the real question, 
the author immediately swerves aside and hides 
himself behind his objects and subjects." 

Further Tolstoi said : 

" This is what surprises me ; all my life I 
have striven for knowledge. I sought and still 

133 



i 3 4 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

seek for it, and the so-called men of science 
say that I denounce science. All my life I have 
been occupied with religious questions, and 
outside of them I see no sense in human life ; 
yet the so-called religious men consider me an 
atheist." . . . 

About that time, in January, Tolstoi said that 
he should like to write a whole series of stories for 
his " Reading Circle " which he is now planning, 
and that he had already many subjects in mind. 

" Only one minute of life remains, and there's 
work for a hundred years," he said. 

When later in the evening I played Chopin's 
prelude, Tolstoi said : 

" Those are the kind of short stories one 
ought to write ! " 

There was then an interesting talk about 
Chekhov's story, The Darling, with reference to 
Gorbunov's letter dissuading him from publish- 
ing the story in the " Reading Circle." Tolstoi on 
the contrary decided to include the story without 
fail, and expressed his very high opinion of it ; 
and in a few days he wrote a preface to The 
Darling in which he expressed his feeling for it. 

Of Gorbunov's letter Tolstoi said : 

" I feel a woman's influence on him in this. 
The confused modern idea is that a woman's 
capacity to give herself up with all her being to 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 135 

love is obsolete and done with ; and yet this is 
the most precious and the best thing in her and 
her true vocation ; and not political meetings, 
scientific courses, revolutions, etc." 

Of Beethoven's music Tolstoi said that at 
times he felt a little bored by it, as he thought 
often happens with what has once struck one 
greatly. He felt the same, for instance, about 
Ge's paintings. 

June 16th. In February I made a note of 
Tolstoi's words : 

" Immortality, incomplete, of course, is cer- 
tainly realized in our children. How strongly 
man desires immortality, is most clearly shown by 
his endeavour to leave some trace after his death. 
It might seem of no importance to a man what 
is said of him and whether he is remembered after 
he has gone ; and yet what efforts he makes 
for it ! " 

Tolstoi said of the Molokans that he had no 
sympathy with their religious formalism. In 
this respect he draws a parallel between the 
Molokans and the English. 

The son of Vicomte de Vogue visited Tolstoi 
in the spring ; Tolstoi said of him : 

"He is a typical Frenchman in everything — 
from his trousers to his way of thought. His 



136 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

father translated Three Deaths and wrote to me 
about it long ago. It was on my conscience 
that I did not answer him, and was glad to have 
the opportunity of apologizing to his son." 

Tolstoi was surprised by young de Vogue's 
saying that his father worked at night and 
smoked a great deal during his work. 

Tolstoi said : 

" I imagine that a Frenchman must in the 
morning rub himself red with eau-de-Cologne, 
drink his coffee, and sit down quietly to work. 

" I always write in the morning. I was 
pleased to hear lately that Rousseau too, after 
he got up in the morning, went for a short walk 
and sat down to work. In the morning one's 
head is particularly fresh. The best thoughts 
most often come in the morning after waking, 
while still in bed or during the walk. Many 
writers work at night. Dostoevsky always wrote 
at night. In a writer there must always be two 
people — the writer and the critic. And, if one 
works at night, with a cigarette in one's mouth, 
although the work of creation goes on briskly, 
the critic is for the most part in abeyance, and 
this is very dangerous." 

Tolstoi often says that he cannot find a 
suitable definition of music. 

Once in the spring he said : 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 137 

" Music is the shorthand of emotion. Emo- 
tions which let themselves be described in words 
with such difficulty, are directly conveyed to man 
in music, and in that is its power and significance." 

Once, a long time ago, Tolstoi said : 

" Life is the present. All that a man has felt 
remains with him as a memory. We always live 
by memories. I often feel more strongly not 
what I have actually felt, but what I have written 
and felt in describing my characters. They too 
have become my memories, as if they had been 
actual experiences," 

The other day the talk was on the same lines. 

Tolstoi said : 

" A so-called misfortune happens ; one does 
not usually feel it, just as one does not feel a 
wound at the moment it is inflicted ; and it is 
only by degrees that the sorrow grows in strength, 
having become a memory, placed, that is, not 
outside me, but already within. Yet, after a long 
life, I notice that the bad and painful things have 
not become me ; they have somehow passed by ; 
but on the contrary, all the pleasant feelings, all 
the loving relations towards people — my child- 
hood, all that has been good — rise with parti- 
cular clearness in my memory." 

Tatyana Lvovna said : 

" But how do you explain Pushkin's poem ; 



i 3 8 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

' Memory unfolding its long scroll/ and further : 
' And reading my life with disgust, I tremble 
and curse ' ? " 

Tolstoi replied : 

" That is quite different. To be able to 
experience and feel all that is bad in one with such 
power — that is a precious and necessary quality. 
Happy and of great importance is the man who 
can go through it with the vigour of Pushkin." 

July 6th. We went for a walk to the sandpits. 
During the walk Gorbunov asked Tolstoi about 
Alexander Dobrolyubov's l religious and philo- 
sophic book. Tolstoi said of the book : 

" It is vague, false, and artificial." 

On that occasion the talk was about the 
literary profession. 

Tolstoi said : 

" It is surprising how in even a little piece of 
work one must think it over from all points of 
view before starting it. It does not matter 
whether you are making a shirt or a move in 
chess. And if you do not think it out, you at 
once spoil it all — you won't make the shirt, 
you'll lose the game. It is only in writing that 

1 A. M. Dobrolyubov (1876), religious seeker. His adherents 
formed a " Dobrolyubovian sect " on the basis of Christian anarchy. 
D. began his literary activity as a poet of the decadent school. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 139 

one can do what one likes, and people never 
notice — indeed one can become a famous writer." 

Tolstoi went on to say : 

" The whole business of the writer is to per- 
fect himself. I have always tried and try now 
to make a question which interests me clear to 
the highest degree that I am capable of making 
it. The writer's work consists in that. The 
most dangerous thing is to be a teacher. I do 
not think I have tried to be that. Yes, I have. 
. . . But always badly." 

I. Gorbunov was saying that the " Posrednik " 
had the Censor's permission to publish an excellent 
little book, in which a visit to Sarov is described 
impartially. 

Tolstoi said : 

" I have no sympathy when such things are 
described in a joking or jeering way. There is 
a great deal of sincere, simple belief there which 
should be treated carefully. In some old credu- 
lous woman you feel, in spite of the absurd 
superstition, that the foundation of her faith is 
a real striving for the highest and for the truth. 
Her outlook on the world is much higher than 
that of a professor who has solved all questions 
long ago." 

V. G. Kristi who walked with us asked Tolstoi : 

" If such an old woman talked about religion, 



140 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

must one destroy her illusions and tell her 
honestly what one thinks ? " 

Tolstoi replied to him : 

" The question does not exist to me. If I talk 
about religious questions, I always express my 
thoughts, if I believe the truth of what I say ; 
and if my words are not understood, it is none 
of my business, but I can say only what I think." 

Last year two young men came to Tolstoi, 
and now they have been again. They are very 
nice and in search of a better life. They turned 
out to be ballet dancers from the Moscow Grand 
Theatre. The necessity of maintaining their 
family prevents them from changing their pro- 
fession. Tolstoi praised them highly. Then 
with a smile he said : 

" If I had children now, I should send them 
to the ballet. At any rate it is better than the 
university. Their feet alone might be spoilt in 
the ballet, but at the university it is their heads." 

Tolstoi compared marriage to a little boat in 
which two people sail over a stormy ocean. 

" Each must sit tight and not make sharp 
movements or the boat will upset." 

Speaking of the present schemes for a con- 
stitution in Russia Tolstoi said : 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 141 

" The misfortune is in that the Radicals and 
their set will only try to say something very 
clever, to play the part of Russian Bebels, and 
the party game will constitute the whole of the 
activity of the representatives of the people." 

Of the war Tolstoi said : 

" The comforting side of the Russian failure 
in the war consists in this, that, however much 
people distort the genuine Christian teaching, yet 
its meaning has already permeated the conscious- 
ness of the people so deeply that war cannot 
become to them, as to the Japanese, a sacred 
cause by sacrificing his life to which a man be- 
comes a hero and does a great deed. The view 
of war, as an evil, permeates the consciousness 
of the people, deeper and deeper. 

Tolstoi said about the Japanese : 

" The Japanese are perfectly incomprehensible 
and unknown to me. I see their wonderful 
capacity for adapting and even for carrying 
further the superficial side of European culture, 
chiefly in its worse aspects, but the soul of the 
Japanese is absolutely dark to me. Japan, by 
the way, proved that the whole of the boasted 
European civilization of a thousand years could 
be taken over and even surpassed in a few 
decades." 



142 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

The conversation was about crowd psychology. 

Tolstoi said : 

" It is an interesting and still little explored 
problem. It is a hypnotism which has a terrible 
power over men. There is one moment when 
it is still possible to resist it. I am now no 
longer infected by others' yawning, because I 
always remember it. When you see a crowd 
running, you have to remember that you do not 
know why they run, and to look back ; and 
immediately you have dissociated yourself from 
the crowd, you are at once saved from the danger 
of succumbing to the hypnotism." 

We played chess on the terrace, and in the hall 
Sophie Nicolaevna sang Schubert's " Wanderer." 

Tolstoi said : 

" Ah that Schubert ! he did a lot of harm ! " 

I asked how ? 

" Because he had in a high degree the power of 
making music correspond to the poetry of the text. 
This rare power of his has brought to birth a 
great deal of music which pretends to correspond 
to poetry, and that is a revolting kind of art." 

They sang Glinka. Tolstoi said : 

" Now, sinful man . . ." The interesting state 
of the game prevented him from finishing his 
sentence. 

Later he said : 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 143 

" I feel that Glinka was coarse, a sensual man. 
One always feels the man himself in his music. 
The young Mozart — bright and direct ; the 
simple Haydn ; the stern, conceited Beethoven — 
are all heard in their music." 

Tolstoi is writing an article which is called 
" The Beginning of the End." 

There was a newspaper correspondent to 
whom Tolstoi expressed a few of the ideas 
which made the basis of his article. 

" The present movement in Russia is a world 
movement, the importance of which is still little 
understood. This movement, like the French 
Revolution formerly, will perhaps give, by means 
of its ideas, an impetus for hundreds of years to 
come. The Russian people has in the highest 
degree the capacity for organization and self- 
government. They gave up their power to the 
Government and waited, as they formerly did 
for the liberation of the serfs, for the liberation 
of the land. They have not been given the 
land, and they themselves will carry out that 
great reform. Our revolutionaries are perfectly 
ignorant of the people and do not understand 
this movement. They might help it, but they 
only hamper it. In the Russian people, it seems 
to me, and I think I am not biased, there is more 



144 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

of the Christian spirit than in other peoples. 
Probably the reason is that the Russian people 
got to know the New Testament about five 
centuries before the people of Europe, who until 
the Reformation hardly knew it." 

Tolstoi criticized the complexity and artifici- 
ality of modern art in general, and of music in 
particular. He said : 

" Certainly, if I love art, I can't love no art, 
but I must love that which exists. Still I have 
always before me the ideal of the highest art : 
to be clear, simple, and accessible to all." 

I was saying how long and systematically one 
must teach piano-playing in order to be able 
to play well. Tolstoi found that " system " 
dangerous. 

He said : 

" In doing this one may lose the direct fresh 
feeling with which you regard a new work of 
art. I know it from my own experience — when 
one begins to write something, one works with 
excitement and interest, and the work goes well ; 
but then the same old thing begins to tire one 
and it becomes boring. Of course, there is the 
love of one's work, and the love is stronger than 
the boredom, and by love the boredom is over- 
come, but still boredom there is." 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 145 

I spoke about the complexity of certain of 
Chopin's works, whom Tolstoi loves very much. 

" Well, he too makes mistakes," Tolstoi 
replied smilingly. " Once I stayed with the 
Olsufevs in the country, and, referring to the 
weather and the gathering in of the harvest, I 
said to the old butler there — he was a sceptic 
and pessimist — that God knows what He does, 
to which he replied : c He too makes mistakes ! " 

Of creative activity Tolstoi said : 

" The worst thing of all is to begin a work 
with the details ; then one gets muddled and 
loses the power of seeing the whole. One has 
to behave like Pokhitonov who has spectacles 
with double glasses divided in two (looking at 
the distance and at his work), to look now 
through these and now through those and to 
put on now the bright and now the dark glasses." 

July z%th. Biryukov showed Marie Niko- 
laevna (Tolstoi's sister) some old letters written 
by her brother Nikolay in French. Tolstoi 
recalled then that from childhood he was so much 
used to writing French that he kept the habit 
until he was quite grown up. When he lived in 
Paris with Turgenev, he once sat down to write 
a letter to his brother. Turgenev came up and, 
seeing that he was writing in French, was 

K 



146 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

surprised and asked Tolstoi why he did it. 
Tolstoi said that until that moment it seemed to 
him that it was impossible to do otherwise, so 
used was he to writing letters in French. 

On account of Biryukov's visit (he is writing 
Tolstoi's biography) and the arrival of his sister 
Marie Nikolaevna, Tolstoi again turned to 
memories of the past. He said : 

" It is surprising how all the past becomes me. 
It is in me, like something folded. But it is 
difficult to be perfectly sincere. Sometimes I 
remember the bad only, another time the 
opposite. Lately I have remembered only the 
bad acts and events. It is difficult in this to keep 
the balance, so as not to exaggerate one way or 
another." 

Tolstoi said : 

" It is impossible to know anything about 
God ; He is a necessary hypothesis or, more truly 
speaking, the only possible condition of a right 
moral life. As an astronomer must base his 
observations upon the earth as a motionless 
centre, so also man cannot live rightly and 
morally without the idea of God. Christ always 
speaks of God as of a father, that is, as if He 
were the condition of our existence." 

August znd. Tolstoi and Marie Nikolaevna 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 147 

were recalling a certain Voeikov. He was once 
a hussar, and then became a monk. When 
Tolstoi was young, Voeikov was continually at 
Yasnaya, permanently drunk, ragged, in monk's 
clothing, and telling lies unmercifully. 

Tolstoi remembered a story that Voeikov 
told: 

" ' We were once in a box : Mikhail Illariono- 
vich (Kutuzov), Alexander Pavlovich (Alex- 
ander L), myself, and some one else. Sontag 
sang. She came out to the front of the stage. 
Her bosom — oh ! (he makes a gesture with his 
hand showing the size of her bust). Alexander 
Pavlovich said to me : " Voeikov, what is it ? " 
And I said to him : " An organism, Your 
Majesty ! " ' 

" And once, after all his mad ways and lies, 
he suddenly came up to me in the garden and 
said : 'lam tired of life, Levochka ! ' " 

Marie Nikolaevna asked Tolstoi why he had 
never described Voeikov. Tolstoi said : 

" There are some events and people in life, 
as there are scenes in nature, which cannot be 
described : they are too exceptional and seem 
to be impossible. Voeikov was like that. 
Dickens described such types." 

August yd. The conversation turned on 



148 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Lobachevsky l and on his theory that space is 
of many dimensions. Tolstoi remembers Loba- 
chevsky, who was Professor and Principal of the 
Kazan University when Tolstoi was an under- 
graduate there. Then the company began to 
recall various mathematicians, amongst whom 
there are often queer fellows to be met. Tolstoi 
mentioned Prince S. U. Urusov, the Sevastopol 
hero, who was a mathematician and a splendid 
chess player. 

Tolstoi said of him : 

" He used to get up at three o'clock in the 
morning, light his samovar, which was prepared 
for him the night before by his orderly, and 
begin his calculations. Urusov was trying to 
find a way of solving the different forms of 
equations. Later he went quite mad. Nothing 
came of his calculations. When, in the belief 
that he had arrived at a positive result, he decided 
to read a paper to the Mathematical Society, 
there was so awkward a silence after his paper 
was read that all felt ashamed." . . . 

Tolstoi went on to say : 

" I was always surprised that mathematicians 
who are so exact in their own science are so 

1 Nikolay Ivanovich Lobachevsky (i 793-1 856), the great Russian 
mathematician and geometrist (founder of the non - Euclidean 
geometry). 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 149 

vague and inexact when they try to philo- 
sophize." 

Tolstoi also mentioned Professors Nekrasov 
and B., whom he knew personally. Tolstoi 
recollected how one evening he visited B. : 

" His wife was an unpleasant woman. That 
evening she was decolletee, and, as is always 
the case on such occasions, one feels something 
superfluous, unnecessary — one doesn't know 
where to look. Looking at her I remembered 
Turgenev's story, — how in Paris he always 
bought himself a loaf in the morning, and the 
baker's girl would hand it over to him with her 
bare arm, which was more like a leg than an arm." 

August 10th. A certain gentleman from 
Petersburg (I don't remember his name) now 
and then sends books to Tolstoi. Recently he 
sent him the Sovremenni^ for 1852 in which 
Tolstoi's Childhood was published. Tolstoi read 
the books with great interest and said that the 
Sovremennik^ was at that time a very interesting 
review. Marie Nikolaevna, who was on a visit 
to Yasnaya, described how she read Childhood 
for the first time. She lived then with her 
husband in the country, in the Chernsky district 
of the Tula province, and Turgenev used to 
come to visit them fairly often. Her brother 



I jo TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Sergey Nikokevich also lived there. During 
one visit Turgenev read them the MS. of his 
Rudin. Next time he brought a number of the 
Sovremennif^ and said to them : 

" There is a wonderful new writer ; a remark- 
able work by him is published here, Childhood" ; 
and he began to read it aloud. 

From the very first words Marie Nikolaevna 
and Sergey Nikolaevna were amazed : 

" But he is describing us ! Who is he ? " 

"At first we did not think of Levochka," 
Marie Nikolaevna went on. " He was in debt 
and had been sent to the Caucasus. We were 
rather inclined to think that our brother 
Nikolay had written Childhood" 

It is said that Turgenev in his Faust described 
Marie Nikolaevna. 

The conversation turned on Dostoevsky's 
hatred of Turgenev. Tolstoi greatly blamed 
the libel on Turgenev in The Possessed. This 
hatred always surprised Tolstoi, and so did that 
between Goncharov and Turgenev. 

Tolstoi went on to say : 

" Now books are written by people who have 
nothing to say. You read, but you do not see 
the writer. They always try to give c the last 
word.' They reject the real writers and say 
that thev have become obsolete. It is an absurd 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 151 

notion — to become obsolete. Modern books are 
read just because one can get to know ' the last 
word ' from them ; and this is easier than to read 
and know the real writers. These purveyors of 
! the last word ' do enormous harm, they make 
people unused to thinking independently." 
Some one mentioned Kant, and Tolstoi said : 
" What is particularly valuable in Kant is that 
he always thought for himself. In reading him 
you deal all the time with his thoughts, and this 
is extraordinarily valuable." 

About reading modern literature Tolstoi said : 
" I am much more ready to read the memoirs 
of some old General in the Kuss^aia Starina; 
he romances a little, like Zavalishin, about his 
merits and successes, but this can be excused, 
and there is always something of interest in it." 
Tolstoi said further : 

" Brain work often tires the head, and when 
tired, you can't work as fruitfully as with a fresh 
head. Generally speaking, in brain work the 
moment is very important. There are moments 
when your thoughts come out as if moulded in 
bronze ; at other moments nothing happens." 

December 51st. Tolstoi said : 
" I am always interested to see what can 
become obsolete in literature. I am curious to 



152 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

know what in modern literature will seem old- 
fashioned, as, for instance, Karamzin's c Oh 
soever ! ' etc., seems to us now. Within my 
memory it has become impossible to write a long 
poem in verse. It seems to me that in time 
works of art will cease to be invented. It will 
be a shame to invent a story about a fictitious 
Ivan Ivanovich or Marie Petrovna. Writers, if 
such there be, will not invent, but will only 
describe the significant or interesting things 
which they have happened to observe in life." 



1906 

August iisf. Speaking about art Tolstoi 
said : 

" Great works of art are for all time. They 
exist. They must only be revealed, as Michael 
Angelo said." 

Tolstoi was reminded by this saying of 
Michael Angelo's of a peasant who without any 
training cut wonderful figures in wood and 
said, when Tolstoi expressed surprise at the art 
with which he did it : 

" It is inside there. I am only taking off 
what is not needed." 

Tolstoi said that Turgenev, in his ecstasy 
over Pushkin's description of Lensky's death in 
Onegin, said that the wonderful rhyme — ranen, 
stranen — seemed to be inevitable. 

Then Tolstoi recollected certain of Tyutchev's 
poems, whom he rates very highly. 

I asked him if he knew Tyutchev. 
153 



i 5 4 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Tolstoi said : 

" When after the Sevastopol campaign I lived 
in Petersburg, Tyutchev, then a famous author, 
did me, a young writer, the honour to call on 
me. And then, I remember, how surprised I 
was that he, who had all his life mixed in court 
circles — he was a friend, in the purest sense, of 
the Empress Marie Alexandrovna — who spoke 
and wrote French more easily than Russian, 
picked out for special praise, when he expressed 
his admiration for my Sevastopol stories, a 
certain soldiers' expression ; and this sensitive- 
ness to the Russian language surprised me in 
him extraordinarily." 

The conversation arose about writers' fees. 

Tolstoi turned to P. Biryukov and said : 

" I understand fees in the case of a work like 
your biography (of Tolstoi), but fees to writers 
for their artistic work always seemed strange 
and wrong to me. The man wrote and en- 
joyed writing, and suddenly for that enjoy- 
ment he asks five hundred roubles per printed 
sheet!". . . 

Tolstoi said : 

" I became more and more convinced that a 
sensible man is to be known by his humility. 
Conceit is incompatible with understanding." 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 155 

Of conceit Tolstoi said a long time ago in my 
presence : 

" Every man can be seen as a fraction, whose 
numerator is his actual qualities, and its de- 
nominator his opinion of himself. The greater 
the denominator the less is the absolute quantity 
of the fraction." 



1907 

September -jth. Tolstoi went to-day to Mme, 
Zveginzev to ask the police inspector, who lives 
on her estate, to release from prison the house- 
painter, Ivan Grigorevich ; and also to thank 
her for the peaches she had sent him. 

Tolstoi said : 

" There was her daughter, Princess Volkonsky, 
there. They all wanted to direct me on the 
path of truth. I tried to speak with all serious- 
ness ; but hardly anything could penetrate 
through their diamonds and luxury. They now 
employ the stove-maker who used to come to 
me to borrow books. And he has been telling 
them that I said that one should not believe in 
God, and various other bits of nonsense. I told 
them that there was nothing strange in my words 
being distorted. If even from Christ's teaching 
people can deduce the rites of the Church, the 
blessing of war, etc., then it is no wonder that our 
words are always misrepresented and distorted. 

156 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 157 

" Then they asked me how I explained the fact 
that in my family no one followed my teaching. 
I told them that it probably happened because 
I lived like a Pharisee, and did not fulfil my own 
teaching. To this they made no reply." 

Tolstoi said that he saw to-day a review of 
a new book on Turgenev. The book is partly 
of a polemical kind. The author gives an 
account of Turgenev's quarrels with all writers 
(Dostoevsky, Tolstoi, Hertzen, Fet, etc.), as if 
it were his object to vindicate Turgenev and to 
prove that on all occasions he was right. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Really, it is strange that he quarrelled with 
every one. He was a very nice, good man. 
Only he was very weak, and was conscious of 
his weakness. Once, I remember, Count Urusov 
was here, my good friend. There were two 
brothers, and for some reason people considered 
them stupid. Now knowing this, Turgenev 
began arguing with them arrogantly as though 
feeling his superiority, but Urusov quietly, 
easily, and confidently refuted his argument. 
And no wonder : Urusov had his own definite 
religious convictions, whatever they might be, 
and Turgenev had none." 

" I was fond of him," Tolstoi said of 
Turgenev. 






158 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Sophie Andreevna said that Turgenev had 
loved Tolstoi very much. 

" No, on the contrary," Tolstoi replied. 
" He rather liked me as a writer, but, as man, I 
did not find in him real warmth and cordiality. 
Well, he liked no one in that way, except women 
with whom he happened to be in love. He had 
no friends." 

Tolstoi asked me about my work, whether I 
was composing music, and said how bad it was 
when people force work out of themselves, and 
how great artists lose by immediately starting 
a new work when they have finished the old one. 

Tolstoi mentioned Pushkin and said : 

" The best writers are always strict with 
themselves. I re- write until I feel that I am 
beginning to spoil. And then, of course, I 
leave it alone. And one begins to spoil because 
at first, when you enjoy your work, whilst it is 
jours, you apply all your spiritual force to it. 
Later when the fundamental original idea ceases 
more and more to be new, and becomes, as it 
were, someone else's, it bores you. You begin 
to try to say something new and you spoil and 
distort the first idea." 

A telegram arrived from Leonid Andreev 
asking to be allowed to come. 

Tolstoi said : 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 159 

" How terribly undeserved fame, like that of 
Andreev, spoils a man ! " 

Then Tolstoi could not compose a telegram 
in reply. 

" How shall I answer ? ' Come/ . . . But 
that is too short. ' Shall be very glad to see you ' 
— that is not altogether true. Well, Dushan 
Petrovich, write simply : ' You are welcome.' " 

Tolstoi said : 

" I had a letter to-day from a man who 
congratulates me on my fifty-fifth anniversary, 
and writes that he so much loves my works that 
he is always reading and re-reading War and 
Peace, for instance, but he says : c However much 
I tried, I could not read a single one of your 
philosophical writings to the end.' He tries to 
persuade me to give up that kind of writing." 

" Why should he have written all that ? " 
Tolstoi said, laughing. " There was a man living 
and nobody knew he was a fool, and suddenly 
he got up and told me so ! " . . . 



1908 

January 6th. Yesterday, when many letters 
came, Tolstoi said : 

" In old age one becomes indifferent to the 
fact that one will never see the results of one's 
activity. But the results will be there. It is 
not modesty on my part, but I know there will 
be results." 

To-day, speaking of the revolutionaries, 
Tolstoi said : 

" Their chief mistake is the superstition that 
one can arrange human life." 

April nth. Tatyana Lvovna was saying that 
A. N. Volkov is writing a book on art. Tolstoi 
became interested. Volkov says in his book that 
art must follow Nature blindly in everything. 

Tolstoi said : 

" It is absolutely untrue. It is always like 
that. When people are discussing art, they 
either say, like the modern decadents, that 

160 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 161 

everything is allowed, everything is possible, 
that there is complete freedom in art. Or they 
talk about the slavish imitation of Nature. 
Both views are false. Just as every man is 
perfectly individual and never occurs twice over, 
so also his thoughts, his feelings are always new ; 
they are his thoughts and feelings alone. At the 
basis of a true work of art there must lie some 
perfectly original idea or feeling, but it must be 
expressed with slavish adherence to the smallest 
details of life." 

July z-jth. A fortnight ago Mme. E — v, the 
wife of a privy councillor, came here on a visit. 
Tolstoi played chess with me on the balcony 
and the lady talked at first to Sophie Andreevna, 
and then, I think, to Marie Nikolaevna, about 
the great service which landowners performed, 
and how the peasants are beasts, and how, but 
for the landed aristocracy and their culture, they 
would become absolute brutes. 

Tolstoi kept silent, but at last could stand it 
no longer. He got up from his chair and said 
to her : 

" You must forgive me, but what you are 
saying is terrible, one can't listen to it with 
indifference. If one is speaking of beasts, then 
certainly it is not the peasants who are beasts, 

L 



i6z TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

but all of us who rob them and live on them. 
And all the c work ' of the landowners is nothing 
but playing about for want of anything else to 
do!" 

Tolstoi was in a state of agitation and could 
not get calm for a long time afterwards. 

The same evening at tea, when Mme. E — v 
had gone, the talk was about executions. Sophie 
Andreevna tried to prove that any murder is as 
bad as an execution, and yet people don't talk 
about them. Elisabetha Valerianovna replied 
that an execution is a murder which is con- 
sidered to be just, and the horror of it lies in that. 

Tolstoi said : 

" If one were to ask who is worse, the 
wretched executioner, hired, intoxicated, spiritu- 
ally destroyed, or those who hire him and those 
who pass sentence of death, the prosecutors, the 
judges, then it seems to me there can be no 
doubt." 

At tea Elisabetha Valerianovna asked her 
mother, Marie Nikolaevna, to have some milk, 
and she began to drink it. 

Tolstoi said : 

" How is it, Mashenka, that you drink it ? 
For myself, if I am told to drink milk, I want 
sherry, and, when I'm told to drink sherry, I 
want milk." . . . 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 163 

Marie Nikolaevna began recalling the past. 
When they lived in Moscow, soon after the 
death of their father in 1837-38, Tolstoi, who 
was then about eight or nine, jumped out of the 
first-floor window and was badly hurt. 

Tolstoi said : 

" I remember that quite well. I wanted to 
see what would happen, and I even remember 
that, as I jumped, I tried to jump upwards." 

July z%th. Yesterday my wife and I were at 
Yasnaya. Tolstoi's leg is still painful. He lies 
in a chair with it stretched out. He suffers from 
inflammation and from embolism of the vein. 
They say he must lie like that for six weeks. 

We arrived at Yasnaya about eight o'clock. 
Tolstoi sat in a chair in the dining-room. He 
played chess with S. Then he began to play 
chess with me. S. looked on at our game for 
a time, and then sitting near the round table he 
began to talk to Sophie Andreevna about the 
children's anthology to be chosen from Tolstoi's 
works, which he wishes to publish for his 
Jubilee (Tolstoi's eighty years). The conversa- 
tion was terrible. Sophie Andreevna said in the 
sharpest way that she was not going to be 
cheated out of her rights, that she would go to 
a lawyer and would write to the papers about it. 



164 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

S. behaved rather well, and asked her to point 
out what she would allow to be published ; but 
she would not listen to reason. At last she 
said that it was the same as if he stole her silver 
spoons. It was intolerably humiliating and 
painful. 

Sophie Andreevna made attempts to draw 
Tolstoi into the dispute. Poor Tolstoi ! He 
suffered, frowned, shook his head in horror, 
but kept silent. The greatest deed in his life is 
his humility and patience with Sophie Andreevna. 
His behaviour is all the more difficult, because 
people criticize him for being humble and long- 
suffering in this way. How much easier it would 
be for him to leave this kind of life, which he 
not only does not want, but which is intolerable 
to him. 

Then it became even worse. S. left the room 
for a time, and when he returned and sat down 
near us watching the chess, Sophie Andreevna 
did not see him and began talking about some- 
thing and, as usual, complaining of the worries 
of managing the household, and said : 

" When I get rid of the steward, of the 
thieving, of S., and . . ." of something else, I 
don't remember what. 

Every one was overcome with shame. Tolstoi 
even uttered a groan. S. turned deadly white. 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 165 

Some one managed to whisper to Sophie 
Andreevna that he, S., was in the room. She 
was not in the least put out, and only began 
saying how much she regretted that she had not 
died under her operation. 

Tolstoi glanced at S. ; S. said : 

" Did you want to say something, Leo 
Nikolaevich ? " 

Tolstoi was silent for a time and then said : 

" You understood me." 

Then he added : 

" Whom God loves, him He tries." 

It was intolerable. S. left the room quickly 
and went away without saying good-bye to any 
one. 

There the matter rested. Mme. Zveginzev 
then arrived. Tolstoi talked about Chertkov's 
father : 1 

" When he was about forty-five, gangrene 
attacked his toe. Then it went further, and his 
leg had to be amputated at the knee. He went 
to England. There they made him an artificial 
leg on which he walked fairly easily. Then the 
gangrene attacked the other leg. This, too, had 
to be amputated, but this time much above the 
knee. He sat in a chair and was carried about. 
He was very patient and did not groan, although 

1 Gregory Ivanovich Chertkov (1828-1884), Adjutant-General. 



166 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

he shuddered with pain all day long. In the 
evenings he would be given an injection of 
morphia ; he would then revive, read the papers 
and talk. He was a brilliant man, a wit, and a 
great success in society. He used to be taken 
in his chair to parties. There was even a cult 
for him ; he used to visit the Empress. In 
society invitations were issued : ' Venez ; M. 
ChertkofF sera ce soir chez nous.' He died 
early. He never drank and never could drink, 
for the wine went to his head. But once at 
dinner some one drank, and he took a little 
glass of vodka, and suddenly died then and 
there at the dinner party." 

Some one began to talk about bugs. 

Tolstoi said : 

" When he has bugs, Perna does not scratch, 
but lies quietly — he allows them to have their 
fill, like Buddha, who gave himself to be devoured 
by the tigress ; and when the bugs have eaten 
enough, he sleeps peacefully. In olden days, 
under the serfdom, when the landed gentry lived 
very dirtily and bugs were everywhere, if a 
guest remained for the night, the butler used to 
be put into the bed first, so as to feed the bugs, 
and only after that was the bed made for the 
guest." 

Then I came up to Tolstoi and he talked to 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 167 

me. At first, with a smile, he winked at Mme. 
Zveginzev's colossal hat. 

I asked him if he was still working on the 
new " Circle of Reading." Tolstoi said that he 
is already working at the twenty-first day. He 
makes the same number of days in all the twelve 
months. I told him that I had read the first 
day and that it seemed to me very good. 

Tolstoi said : 

" Yes, but it must all be gone over again. 
At the beginning of each day I put the ideas 
which can be understood by children and simple 
people. This is very difficult. I am doing it 
now, when I am an old man, but I ought to have 
begun my career as a writer by doing it. I ought 
to have written so that it could be understood 
by every one. This is true, too, of your art. 
And, generally speaking, of all the arts." 

I said to him that in music the most musical 
language happens to be beyond one's reach, 
whether or not one belongs to intellectual circles, 
either because one is not trained or because one 
is unmusical by nature. 

Tolstoi agreed with me partly, but said that 
this was the case in other arts as well : 

" There are some ideas which can be under- 
stood by all and are necessary to all, but are 
expressed in the language of a small group of 



1 68 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

people. For instance, the poem c I remember 
the wonderful moment,' or ' When to the mortal 
the noisy day passes into silence ' — do you 
remember them? A peasant couldn't under- 
stand them." 

Tolstoi said : 

" I was thinking a great deal about art to-day 
and I re-read my article, and I must confess I 
agreed with my ideas." 

Tolstoi is reading the English biography of 
Chopin (by Huneker). He does not like it. He 
said to me : 

" I have not read books of that kind for a 
long time. The author does not reveal Chopin's 
inner life, but displays his own erudition, his 
ability to write well and wittily. He is contro- 
versial and proves the faults of other bio- 
graphers. But there is no Chopin here. . . . 
Yet there are many interesting facts in it. It is 
the life of a small circle of poets, writers, and 
musicians — what a perverted and terrible life ! 
And George Sand, that disgusting woman ! . . . 
I can't understand her success." 

Marie Nikolaevna, who was listening, said : 

" No ! she has done good things. Take, for 
instance, her Consuelo" 

" No, that is not good. It is all false and 
bad and tedious ; I could never read it." 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 169 

July 30//;. There were staying at Yasnaya 
Marie Alexandrovna, I. Gorbunov, and E. I. 
Popov. Tolstoi was not well. His leg was 
still painful. We played chess. Then there was 
tea. Before the game of chess, when I had come 
into the drawing-room by myself, Tolstoi was 
telling Obolensky and the others, whom I men- 
tioned, the plot of Anatole France's novel, a 
very complicated novel. I believe it is called 
Jocaste. Tolstoi was telling the plot in detail 
and was surprised at its absurdity, but said it 
was written with A. France's usual mastery. 

As I came in, I had met two men downstairs 
who wished to see Tolstoi. As Tolstoi is ill, 
Gusev (the secretary) went downstairs. One of 
the men turned out to be a sectarian, " an im- 
mortalist," and the other sent up by Gusev a 
strange note in which, referring to Boulanger's 
promise to try to find a job for him, he said 
something foolish about his desire to be useful 
to Tolstoi. Altogether there was no sense, no 
purpose in it. 

Tolstoi said : 

"It is amazing, why can't they understand ? 
It seems to him that only he and myself exist, 
and yet there are hundreds of him, and 
only one of me. And what can I do for 
him ? " 



i 7 o TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

At tea Tolstoi talked about the ' immortalist.' 
Marie Nikolaevna asked what sect it was. 

Tolstoi said to her : 

" The ' immortalists ' believe that if they go 
on believing they will never die. And when 
one of them dies they say : he did not really 
believe. ... I quite understand it. With them 
immortality is identified with the body. At a 
low level of religious development that is under- 
standable. The Church doctrine also thinks of 
resurrection as a resurrection in the flesh." 

Marie Nikolaevna began to say that she 
believed that there would be something after 
death. 

Tolstoi said : 

" In the first place, as to our state after death, 
it is impossible to say that it will be. Im- 
mortality neither will be, nor was, but is. It is 
outside the forms of time and space. People 
who keep on asking what is going to happen 
after death should be told : the very same thing 
that was before birth. We do not know, neither 
can we or must we know what existence outside 
of the body, fusion with God, is like, and, when 
people begin telling me about it — even if some 
one from the other world were to come to tell 
me about it — I would not believe and I should 
say that I do not need it. That which we need, 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 171 

we always are aware of and know without 
doubting. One ought to live so that one's life 
should help on the happiness of other people." 

Marie Nikolaevna said that although she 
neither believes in nor admits the existence of 
paradise and hell with real suffering, nevertheless 
there is hell for the soul in the constant suffering 
which comes from realization of evil done or of 
good undone. 

" I can't admit," she added, " that one who 
lives badly and has done no good will achieve 
the same fusion with God as the man who has 
lived justly." 

Tolstoi was about to say something, but Marie 
Nikolaevna interrupted him. 

Tolstoi said quietly and gently : 

" I listened to you, Mashenka ; now do you 
listen to me. Compared with the perfection of 
God, the difference which exists in life between 
the most righteous man and the most wicked is 
so insignificant that it is simply equal to nothing. 
And how am I to admit that God, the God whom 
I realize through love, can be revengeful and 
punish ? " 

" But suppose one lived wickedly all one's 
life and died without repenting ? " Marie Niko- 
laevna said. 

"Ah, Mashenka," Tolstoi said, "but what 



i 7 2 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

man wishes to be bad ? The man whom we 
think bad we must love and pity for his suffer- 
ings. Nobody wants to live a bad life and to 
suffer. He must not be punished, he must be 
pitied, because he does not know the truth." 

Marie Nikolaevna still could not give up her 
point of view. 

Tolstoi said to her : 

" Very well, if what you believe in satisfies 
you ; and this must never be condemned, only 
you must not prevent people from believing 
what their conscience prompts them to, and you 
must not try to make them believe differently, 
as all the Churches do, the Catholic, the Protestant, 
the Orthodox, the Buddhist, the Muhammadan." 

Towards the end of July, Klechkovsky came 
to Yasnaya and played. 

Tolstoi lay on the sofa, and, after Klechkovsky 
had finished playing, we sat by Tolstoi. Klech- 
kovsky began talking about himself, how dis- 
satisfied he was with his life, how he would like 
to live on the land, to give up his music teaching 
and the Institute. But he can't do it because 
his father would be much upset by such a sudden 
change in his life. He also said that he would 
like to go and live in a community. 

Tolstoi replied to him : 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 173 

" Why in a community ? One ought not to 
separate oneself from other people. If there is 
anything good in a man, let that light be spread 
about him wherever he lives. What numbers 
of people settled in communities, yet nothing 
came of it ! All their energies went at first into 
external arrangement of life, and when at length 
they settled down, there began to be quarrels 
and gossip, and it all fell to pieces. . . . You 
are grumbling at the Institute, yet there is the 
porter there whom you could treat kindly, like 
a human being, and then you would have done 
a good act. And the girls, your pupils ? Can't 
you make a great deal that is good out of those 
relations ? One can always shut oneself off from 
people, but nothing good will come of it. I say 
this not because I want to justify my own life. 
I live in the wrong way and know it is the wrong 
way, but I have always wanted and tried to live 
better, only I could not. ... I shall go to God 
in the consciousness that I did what I could to 
make my life better. 

" One should never attempt to arrange life 
beforehand. At times I ask myself what I 
should do if I remained here alone ? For 
instance, I should say to Ilya Vasilevich : c It 
would be nice if you did the rooms and tidied 
them to-day, and I will do them to-morrow.' 



i 7 4 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

Then we should eat together. And so on with 
one thing after another, as things would arrange 
themselves. Only it has to be remembered that 
the ideal of the material life cannot be fully- 
realized, any more than the ideal of the spiritual 
life. The whole point is in the constant effort 
to approach the ideal. If I gave up everything 
now and went away, Sophie Andreevna would 
hate me, and the evil of that would perhaps be 
worse. You have your father . . . and so it is 
with every one." 

Tolstoi said before this : 

" I said to Sophie Andreevna to-day, and I 
believe she was hurt by it : the first concern in 
life must be for the things of the soul, and, if 
household duties interfere with that, then damn 
household duties." 

Last night we sat on the balcony. 

Tolstoi said that he had had a nice letter from 
a simple man who had read several of his books, 
and who asked, at the end of his letter, where 
there were people who live a Christian life, for 
he would leave everything and go and live with 
them. Tolstoi said that he replied to him much 
in the same way as he had done to Klechkovsky. 

Tolstoi added : 

" I think that even if one was a woman in a 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 175 

brothel, or a gaoler, one ought not suddenly to give 
up one's work. Certainly any one who realizes 
the evil of such a life will not go on with it, but 
the important thing is not the external change." 

Tolstoi said he had received three letters : 
one from Mr. Grekov, who sent him three 
copies of his book, The Message of Peace, and 
wrote that his book was so remarkable that, if 
it were widely read, it would revolutionize 
human life ; the second letter was from an 
intellectual who asked for a loan of 800 roubles ; 
and the third from a simple illiterate peasant, a 
good serious letter. Tolstoi said that, besides 
letters asking for money, he also receives letters 
from authors sending him their books, and 
begging that Tolstoi will use his authority to 
make their books known. 

" An odd idea," Tolstoi said, " that I should 
try to spread opinions which I neither sympathize 
with nor share." 

August $th. Marie Nikolaevna told how the 
steward Fokanich had once stolen 400 roubles 
from Tolstoi, and Tolstoi took it rather in- 
differently. Soon afterwards Sergey Nikolaevich, 
Tolstoi's brother, was very much worried about 
his affairs, and when he was told that it was not 
worth while to be so worried, he said : 



176 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

" It doesn't matter to Levochka that Fokanich 
stole 400 roubles from him ; he will write a story 
and get the money back ; and he will describe 
Fokanich into the bargain ; but where shall I 
get my money ? " 

Tolstoi replied to this : 

" Mashenka, how can you remember all this ? 
But I heard an expression to-day that keeps on 
coming back into my mind." 

And Tolstoi told how during lunch to-day 
an unusually importunate beggar arrived. He 
stood by the balcony and began saying how 
happy he was to see and salute Tolstoi, etc. . . . 
He was given something, but he was not satisfied, 
went to the kitchen, and began begging with 
extraordinary importunity. After lunch when 
Tolstoi was coming down from the balcony, 
Ilya Vasilevich, pointing to the beggar, said to 
Tolstoi : 

" Yes, that fellow could beg the parson's mare 
off him." 

August 19//6. At tea the conversation turned 
upon modern literature. Tolstoi asked Buturlin 
to send him anything new he could find by 
Anatole France, whom Tolstoi values very highly. 
He spoke again. 

Tolstoi said : 



$ 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 177 

" I cannot remember getting a strong im- 
pression from a book for a long time. I do not 
think it is because I am old ; it seems to me 
that modern literature, like the Roman literature 
in the past, is coming to an end. There is no 
one, neither in the West nor here." 

Buturlin asked Tolstoi if he remembered 
Oscar Wilde's De Profundis. 

Tolstoi had not read it, but said : 

" I forget everything now, but I remember 
having tried to read Wilde, and it has left me 
with an impression that he was not worth 
reading." 

Speaking of modern Russian writers Tolstoi 
mentioned Kuprin. 

" His scope is small ; he knows the life of the 
soldiers, but still he has real artistic power. The 
others simply have nothing to say, and are on 
the look-out for new forms. But why look for 
new forms ? If you have something to say, you 
should only ask for time in which to say what you 
want, but you won't need to seek new forms." 

Apropos of Eltzbacher's book on anarchy, 
which Tolstoi was re-reading, he said : 

" Christian anarchy is a narrow definition of 
the Christian conception of the world, but 
anarchy follows certainly from Christianity in its 
application to social life." 

M 



178 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

September yd. Tolstoi again spoke about the 
old German mystic, Angelus Silesius. Tolstoi 
asked some one to fetch his book (a large old 
volume) and read aloud several aphorisms, trans- 
lating them as he read. When he came to the 
passage: "If God did not love Himself in us, 
we could neither love ourselves, nor God," 
Tolstoi exclaimed : 

" Ah, how well that's said ! " 

Referring to some account in the papers of a 
conversation with him, Tolstoi said : 

" If I were to live for another eighty years, 
and were never to cease talking, I could not 
manage to say all the sayings that are attributed 
to me." 

September 6th. Tolstoi said, with reference to 
the addresses and congratulations on his eightieth 
birthday (August 28th, 1908) which keep on 
coming : 

" I believe I am right in saying that I have 
no vanity, but I can't help being touched in- 
voluntarily. And yet, at my age, I live so far 
away from all this, it is all so unnecessary and so 
humiliating. Only one thing is necessary, the 
inner life of the spirit." 

On August 29th, when more than two thousand 
telegrams of congratulation arrived, Tolstoi said : 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 179 

" I feel with joy that I have utterly lost the 
power of being interested in all this. In the 
past, I remember, I experienced a feeling of 
pride ; I was glad at my success. But now — 
and I think it is not false modesty — it is a matter 
of absolute indifference to me. Perhaps it is 
because I have had too much success. It is like 
sweets : if you have too many, you feel sur- 
feited. But one thing is pleasant : in nearly all 
the letters, congratulations, addresses, the same 
thing is repeated — it has simply become a truism 
— that I have destroyed religious delusions and 
opened the way for the search after truth. If it 
is true, it is just what I have wanted and tried to 
do all my life, and this is very dear to me." 



1909 

February 10th. Once in the winter Sophie 
Andreevna in Tolstoi's presence criticized V. G. 
Chertkov bitterly, which, as usual, pained him 
very much. This was in the morning. In the 
middle of the conversation Tolstoi got up and 
went into his room. 

Some time later he came into the dining- 
room, stood at the door, and said in an agitated 
voice : 

" There is an old nurse in our house. I 
scarcely know her, but I love her because she 
loves Sasha, and when there is nothing like that 
in a house, there is no real love." . . . 

After saying this, Tolstoi turned and quietly 
went to his room. 

To-night Tolstoi said : 

" When one listens to music, it agitates, 

excites, elates, but one does not think. But when 

I play patience in my room, the finest thoughts 

come to me." 

1 80 



TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 181 

During work, especially if he found some 
difficulty, Tolstoi used to play patience. This 
was his habit throughout his life. When he was 
writing Part III. of Resurrection, Tolstoi was 
undecided for a long time about the fate of 
Katyusha Maslov. Now he decided that Nekh- 
lyudov should marry her, now that he should 
not. At last he decided to play a game of 
patience : if the patience came out, Nekhlyudov 
should marry her ; if not, then he should not 
marry her. The patience did not come out. 
Once Tolstoi told me that he had found a passage 
in a book, which he was writing, very difficult. 
He hesitated for a long time what to do, but made 
up his mind and wrote it. Then he decided to 
test it by means of a game of patience ; if the 
patience came out, that meant that what he had 
written was good ; if it did not come out, then 
it was bad. The patience did not come out, 
and Tolstoi said to himself: "Never mind, 
it is good as it is ! " and he left it as he had 
written it. 

May 24th. Tolstoi was speaking about Die- 
trich's German book on Goethe. The author 
sent him the book and asked him his opinion. 

Tolstoi said : 

" It is amazing ! So far back as 1824 Goethe 



\ 



1 82 TALKS WITH TOLSTOI 

wrote that sincerity was become almost im- 
possible in art, because of the multitude of 
newspapers, journals, and reviews. The artist 
reads them, involuntarily pays attention to them, 
and cannot be perfectly sincere. What would 
he say if he lived now ! " 



THE END 



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